We are all slowly adjusting to the isolation of quarantine and the realities that it brings. There are mundane questions: what will I do with my time if I can't work? How will I get groceries? Can I survive if my kids or my spouse is driving me nuts and I can't get away? Is Passover going to be a train wreck this year?
And then there are weightier questions: will I get sick, and if I do, what will I do? Will the economy crash, and if it does, will it recover? How will my finances be affected? How many people are going to lose their lives in this epidemic?
As we are thrown forward into this awkward and scary time, a familiar ritual looms ahead of us: the seder. The seder is usually a touchstone of comfort and ritual; a gathering of family and friends to retell an ancient story of slavery and freedom.
This year, however, the seder will be read with totally different emphasis and understanding - parts that were routine or theatrical will suddenly become more intense. Everything will feel different.
Consider, for example, כל דכפין יתב ויאכל - 'Let all who are hungry come and eat'. This line teaches that we are to throw open our doors and invite anyone to join us. This year, however, we are acutely aware that it is not ok to do that - we must not invite anyone into our homes, for fear of giving or receiving a dangerous illness.
Or consider the portion of the Maggid - retelling - in which we highlight the spreading of lambs blood on the lintels and doorposts in order to ward off the angel of death. The Israelites sealed themselves indoors for one night in order to protect themselves, while we ourselves are sealed inside for weeks or even months on end. Or consider the accompanying plague from which the Israelites were protecting themselves - the death of the firstborn. This year, the idea of a story about a mysterious illness that killed many innocent people is going to feel more intense, more visceral, and more emotional. We are rereading the same old story as last year, but it will not feel like the same old story.
Finally, Passover this year will be different because it will be more lonely. Families that once gathered with 20 or 30 will have just a few folks around the table. Some seders will have just two people; some will be conducted alone. Your cousin won't be bringing the brisket like she does every year; and she won't be able to brag for the tenth time about how the secret ingredient in the marinade is Coca Cola. Your grandchildren won't be running around trying to find the afikoman. All the houses will feel emptier. The strangeness of the holiday will remind us on an emotional level of how different everything is this year.
And yet, it is not. The Haggadah is the same as it ever was. We will eat the same matzah and sing the same songs and connect with our friends and family at their seders over telephone and Skype and Facetime and Zoom. Passover will add a dose of normalcy to an experience that feels so very abnormal.
And this year, when we get to 'Why is this night different from all other nights?', we can know that the answer will be more different than at any other Passover night we have ever experienced before. Yes, Passover will be strange, but it will also be the constant in this turbulent time that we all really need. Pesach will bring surprises, but its regular appearance in our lives at the same point as last year will also bring immense comfort.
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Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.