ערב ש׳׳ק ״וְכִפֶּ֨ר עָלָ֧יו הַכֹּהֵ֛ן לִפְנֵ֥י ה׳ וְנִסְלַ֣ח ל֑וֹ״ וגו׳
Dear Anshe Sholom,
This week we ushered in the month of Nissan, a season in which our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt and, our Sages teach, the season of our future redemption. For the duration of the month, and not just the eight days of Passover, “Tahanun” supplicatory prayers are omitted each morning and afternoon and eulogies are omitted from funerals. The entire month is meant to take on the festive spirit of Passover and the emergence of spring.
Several individuals asked me this week whether or not I thought it was appropriate to continue reciting Tahanun this year given the dire circumstances faced by nearly every human being and every significant Jewish community among them. My response was that it was not appropriate to recite Tahanun even during a Nissan such as this one (and I was gratified to discover that some of my own teachers agreed with this judgement when this question was posed to them). Nissan is not a month in which only good things happen and Pesach is not a holiday in which freedom is given to us willy nilly. The redemptive potential of Nissan hovers above and beyond the observable reality. Our choice to treat the month as a special time reinforces its unique character, and that in turn prepares us to see ourselves on Passover night “as if” we personally left Egypt.
When we choose to see ourselves “as if” we personally left Egypt, we already have the tools to free ourselves, spiritually, from the other constraints that bind us even today.
In my recent phone calls with members of the community and when I encounter you on various online forums, I am so frequently moved and inspired by the generosity and commitment and resilience that so many of you have displayed in countless ways. In particular, the professionalism, courage, and ethical integrity that I have witnessed through my interactions with those providing medical care at this time has been a source of inspiration to me.
Each of us, in some way, has the potential to demonstrate in these weeks the ways that we see ourselves “as if” we left Egypt. We do this by taking actions of social-responsibility such as remaining at home to keep others healthy. We do this by finding creative ways to support the well-being of our friends and neighbors. We do this by prioritizing moments of prayer, introspection, and Torah study, even in a world turned upside down. These actions demonstrate our belief in a redeemed world that exists just over the horizon and that, with God’s help, we can instantiate, first gradually, and then with increasing vibrancy.
The mitzvot of Pesach are numerous, demanding, and detailed even under the easiest circumstances. The choice to celebrate Pesach and to observe its mitzvot this year is a special act of spiritual courage and a demonstration of faith. In this way, the halakhic questions that I have received regarding Pesach observance have been a further source of inspiration to me. I remain available to provide support as you each prepare for Pesach. I hope my support can be useful to you; it has certainly been sustaining and inspiring to me to witness the community’s enduring dedication to the Torah and its Mitzvot.
Rabbi David Wolkenfeld