On Passover, one of the first things we do during our Seders is raise the matzah up and say:
Behold, the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate while in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry come and eat. All who are needy, come and participate in the Passover ritual. Today we are here; next year in the Land of Israel. Today we are slaves; next year we shall be free people.
The notion that the goodwill message of the Seder is not just for us, but for "all who are needy", is an important part of our understanding of the Passover holiday and its meaning. We are required to take care of those less fortunate than us, whether they be ill, economically challenged, or incomplete in some other way. But this commandment is not limited to the Seder or to Passover. When the language in the Haggadah says "All who are hungry", and when it uses "today" and "next year", we are being reminded that this requirement is not limited to a specific person or a specific time.
This year, while I am still mindful of the many blessings that we each have to recognize, it is hard not to feel as if we are the needy. We are the ones who need to participate. We are hungry for contact. We are starved for a hug.
And truly, God-willing, next year we will be free. Free to be where we want. Free to be with whom we want. Free from this Egypt we call "Covid-19".
I was reminded by one of my teachers, Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, that the very first Seder was on the night before the Israelites left Egypt. On that evening, each family had taken the blood from the sacrificed lamb and placed it on the lintels of their doors hoping for the angel of death to pass over them. In other words, each family was living in isolation waiting for the murkiness of that "night" to pass. This sounds eerily familiar.
While each of us will be in some form of isolation this year, modern technology will allow us to be together virtually. If you have no plans to Zoom or Face time with your own families, join us on either the first or second night of Passover, or both. Sheri and I will be hosting a Zoom Seder at 6:00 pm on each night. Look for links in future emails.
I need to report how wonderful our JCC community is. In speaking with various congregants, I have learned how you have performed the mitzvah of Gemilut Hasadim (Deeds of Loving-kindness). Some of you have shopped for others. Some have brought others to the supermarket. Some have taken others to doctors. Some have driven others home from the hospital. Some have made meals for others. Some have taught others how to use the new virtual technology. Some have treated people who were stricken with the virus. Some have virtually joined healing services and helped others to say the Mourner's Kaddish. One person learned that a hospital needed baby monitors in order to keep track of patients on ventilators, so she purchased 100 baby monitors for the hospital.
After joining in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, "I felt as if my legs were praying." Over these last few weeks, I have been touting the multi-tiered power of prayer. When we do for others, when we help others, when we do not sit idly by, we are praying.
Part of my prayer this week is that next year we each have big Seders filled with healthy and happy people; a true feast of freedom.
Stay healthy, keep a safe distance, wash frequently, and pray, pray, pray, any way that you know how.
Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Michael S. Jay