Isn’t it ironic that we celebrate our hurried exodus from Egypt, one in which we did not even have time to let bread dough rise, with a meal that is so full of preparation and organization it is literally called “order”? The seder plate is even laid out from chazeret (lettuce) to charoset (fruit and nut mixture), helping to ensure the order of the meal is followed and no mitzvah is passed over. We scour the house in advance of the holiday, searching for chametz (forbidden foods), and we arrange to sell the rest, as a way to ensure there is none remaining in our possession at sundown on the first night of Pesach. It is remarkable that we remain so devoted to the detailed preparation of a holiday designed to mark when we went from bondage to freedom without time for even the simplest food preparation.
This makes me wonder how we should mark one year since we hurriedly packed up our offices and lockers, doled out our computers, and locked the school doors, hunkering down for the relatively sudden emergence of COVID. The pandemic, of course, is not over. Just as our Jewish ancestors did not stop to celebrate in the middle of the parted Red Sea, nor should we prematurely let down our guard or stop working together to get to the other side of this. Vaccines are being distributed, numbers have increased a bit but have remained low enough to keep school’s doors open, and there is hope that we will see a semblance of pre-pandemic life, perhaps at some point this calendar year.
Recognizing the pandemic is not over, we can also use this upcoming holiday to reflect on the past year. We first remember those who were taken by COVID and those who suffered and continue to suffer its more severe effects. This year has been marked also by the convulsions of social change and unrest, brought about by fractures in our culture and longstanding institutions of inequity, as well as a lack of understanding and empathy for people who look different or live in a different place or adhere to different ideas and ideologies. The epidemic of violence, hate, and inequity, if untended, will most certainly outlive the pandemic of this virus. As we dip karpas in salt water at our seders, we will recall the tears of our ancestors in Egypt, and we may also mourn for those who have experienced and are experiencing suffering and loss due to the virus, as well as the victims of violence and hate.
It also seems appropriate to honor and reflect upon how hard the work of this pandemic has been and how we have worked together to keep our Heilicher community going strong. Eating charoset reminds us of the mortar used by enslaved Israelites in Egypt. This year, may we also consider the hard work of essential workers, including our teachers and other staff, as well as the hard work of our friends, families, and the students of Heilicher that have kept us going strong, even as the pandemic continues. We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.
As we retell the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, may we consider how significant the coordination of this endeavor must have been, from a logistical and communication standpoint, in light of what we’ve learned so far from adapting to COVID. Perhaps our abstinence from eating leavened foods stems not from an acknowledgement of how little time the Israelites had, but how they were forced to prioritize essential activities during that short decision-making window. In response to COVID, we too acted based on our top priorities and using community values at the core of our choices. With every bite of matzah this Passover, may we reflect on what we have chosen to do and not do, what we have sacrificed, and how amazing it was that our community quickly aligned on key priorities and values as we tackled the crisis together.
Perhaps, in future years, we will mark the 2020 pandemic with some holiday or milestone event requiring detailed preparation that takes more time than we had to prepare for the actual pandemic. But, this year, as we recline at our seder tables, and acknowledge our freedom, may we recline even deeper into our pillowed chairs, allowing ourselves a moment of respite and a moment of reflection and a moment to pause in the midst of a most unexpected and challenging year.
Chag Pesach kasher v’sameach. Have a kosher and happy Passover. And, hopefully, a restful one as well.