There is no better holiday to celebrate during the times of COVID-19, than Passover. I mean, really, the symbolism is almost too much to bear. We have plagues (pick your favorite), fanatical cleaning and social distancing ordinances that resemble the biblical guideline to celebrate the Passover just with one’s closest family. And just like Pharaoh, this too we will survive.
Jokes aside, there is a deeper reason why Pesach couldn’t come in a better moment for our community.
“And we Left Egypt in a hurry.”
Those are the words that open the Maggid storytelling section of the Passover Haggadah. And what is the story of Passover if not the story of freedom? Indeed, the central story of the Haggadah is about the enslavement of our biblical ancestors, but we also include stories of rabbinic leaders who participated in the rebellion against the Romans and songs such as Chad Gadya, which depicts many waves of persecution that our people endured. In later generations, the Haggadah was used as an inspiration for the movement to free Soviet Jewry.
In most cases, when asked about enslavement or the lack of freedom, people will describe it as a physical state, especially when the pyramids come to mind. And it is true—the suffering we reenact during the Seder is supposed to remind us of the materials we used to build the pyramids, the poverty that we lived in as slaves and the plagues which destroyed Egypt.
That being said, there is another type of enslavement which we note in the Seder, and that is the enslavement of our identity and the inability to express our beliefs. After all, the Biblical story tells us that the reason Moses pleaded to leave Egypt was so that the Hebrews may worship their G-d. but leaving Egypt was not enough—our traditions tell us that it took even more energy and time to get rid of a slave mentality.
Leaving Egypt physically was not enough. But unlike the miraculous delivery from Egypt, this stage in our collective freedom was not ordained by G-d—each person had to achieve it individually. While our physical freedom was a communal event, escaping the mentality of slavery can only be achieved on our own.
This year, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not able to celebrate with our families (seriously, stay home!) and communities. Jews around the world will be alone for the Seder for the first time in their lives. While this is indeed a difficult moment, there can be a silver lining.
Perhaps this year, we can take a moment to pause and try and elevate Pesach to a holiday in which we can achieve a new plane in our personal and communal consciousness. We can take this moment to reflect on what we have, and what we have lost because of this pandemic, perhaps to free ourselves from our daily micro-enslavements and plan for a new and better world post-COVID-19.
Perhaps in this time of aloneness and solitude, we can reach new heights of consciousness and being. To put it in the words of the great Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind.”
I look forward to celebrating with all of you together in our JCC as soon as it is safe to do so! Chag Sameach!