As we sit down at our Seder tables, it is clear that this night is different than all other nights.
Some of us will be sitting down with just our immediate family. Some of us will be propping a computer or tablet on the table to videoconference with other friends and loved ones. And some of us will be alone, reading through the haggadah on our own.
But let’s remember, what is different is how we are celebrating Passover, not Passover itself.
Yes, for some of us there is sadness at not celebrating the way we are accustomed. We look forward to sharing favorite foods, songs and stories with family and friends, sitting around a big table living into both our shared Jewish traditions and individual personal ones.
And we can also recognize that for some this forced change may be a relief. The virus relieves the pressure to cook and clean, to sit with people we may not want to sit with, to travel if we prefer to stay home, to live up to expectations imposed by self or others.
Even without the virus, my family and I were planning an intimate Seder just for the four of us. While in past years we traveled to others homes for a first night Seder, and sometimes even hosted one ourselves, our commitment to host and lead Community Seders on the second night led us to want to scale down for the first night and keep things simple. These have been sweet and meaningful Seders.
Also, my memories drift back 11 years ago, when during Passover I was still recovering from neurosurgery. I was convalescing at home, resting and sleeping a lot, and when Passover came I was not up to travel to Seattle to be with our friends for Seder as we planned. (I had already turned over leadership of the TBH Community Seder to others.) So my family traveled north without me, and I did not attend a Seder that year.
I missed out, but I know I was doing what I needed to do to take care of myself. And it was OK. Our tradition teaches the value of pikuach nefesh–“saving a life”–that we may need to override ritual obligations and observances in order to preserve health. We forgo one celebration in order to ensure future celebrations.
Like with everything in our lives these days, our staying at home has forced us to do familiar things in new and different ways. How we celebrate Passover is but one example. But regardless of the how, we can still focus on the what, which doesn’t ever change: telling the story of the Exodus and recalling the themes of redemption and liberation for those who are oppressed.
Indeed, perhaps we can look at this year’s Passover in particular as a means to fully live into what Passover is trying to teach us: that although we may find ourselves in difficult and trying conditions, we have the ability to transcend our current circumstances to create something radically new.
After the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds as part of their escape from Egypt, the sea closed behind them. There was no going back. After this public health crisis passes, there is no going back. We can only think about what we have learned from this experience to help transform ourselves and our world for the better, and carry that learning with us as we take our next steps.
Wishing you a Passover of connection and meaning.