Our Rabbi’s Message
Passover in the Pandemic
Our country has been under attack by Covid-19 for over a year. The nation has been mobilized as if under attack by a foreign enemy.
Half a million Americans, alone, are now casualties of the virus. Many, especially those with pre-existing conditions, are still in danger, especially with the difficulty for so many to secure appointments for the vaccines now increasingly available.
Physicians, and nurses, and other health care workers are fighting Covid-19, as fiercely as the surrounded 101st Airborne fought off the Nazi advances toward Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.
Even though the virus is being beaten back, it is still taking casualties among us.
This Passover will still see us under siege, but will see us with hope on the horizon.
Deliverance is on the way, just as The Third Army rushed north to break the siege of Bastogne and to push back the Nazi forces.
The Passover story is about the shift from danger to hope.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzraim.
It means, “narrow, dangerous place.” It also is rendered, “from evil “ on Passover, the HaGaddah tells the story of Deliverance.
Deliverance from Egypt, but it also tells of the Divine provision for Deliverence from contemporary Egypts (dangerous places).
Passover repeats and reminds us of the power of hope. This is why the seder ends with the hope and affirmation saying,
“Next year in Jerusalem.”
This final prayer is not just about Jews and Jerusalem. It is about all humanity. It is ultimately about trust. Trust in God, in Providence, in Hope.
But the Prophet Jeremiah taught that, “hope is something that you do.” We don’t sit back and wait. We fight the evil before us. The Leadership of Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, demonstrated this Jewish teaching, “hope is something that you do.” (I find it interesting that the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna are Jewish.)
So when we sit at the seder table at Pesach this year in Covid-19, we may not be surrounded by all of the family and friends who usually attend. We may not have all of the seder plate foods, or all of the traditional dishes that we normally serve for the meal. We may not have the person present who normally leads the prayers and music of this round the table service. But, we can re-tell the story.
But, we can be grateful. Thankful for past historic deliverances from Egypt through time ‘til now. We can give thanks to the Source of these redemptions. And, we can reteach the lesson and promise of hope.
Ha Shanah Ha Bahah B’Yirushalaim, Next Year in Jerusalem,
is a hope for relieving the plague now surrounding us. It is a visualization of better times for us as individuals, and better times in the world for all people.
I’ve just re-read an account by Rabbi Burtrum Korn published by the American Jewish Archives on the Centennial of the Civil War. ( 7,000 Jewish soldiers served the North, 3,000 served the South. )
It was a vicious deadly war. More Americans were killed in it than all of the other American conflicts combined. It was a frightening time.
Rabbi Korn quotes an article in a Jewish newspaper published in 1862 by Private A. J. Joel of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment, then stationed in Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Private Joel had rounded up 20 Jewish soldiers to petition their Commander, Rutherford P. Hayes ( who would later become President) for time off duty to observe Passover.
Private Joel had arranged for a wooden barrel of matzah, and two hagaddot to be sent from the Jewish Community in Cincinnati. They had nothing else with which to observe the seder. Ingredients for charoset were unavailable so Joel put a brick on the rough hewn log table that they made. He reasoned that if charoset is the mortar, the brick would represent the finished product. He picked some foul smelling weeds for bitter herbs. He used combined funds to purchase a lamb and two kegs of cider. No eggs were available.
The soldiers weren’t sure which bone to put on the table for the z’roah, so they placed the entire roasted lamb in the middle saying that God will choose the correct bone.
Joel reported that the bitter herb weeds were hotter than cayenne pepper and the men drank up all of the ( hard) cider washing away the bitterness.
He reported that some soldiers became as inebriated as on Purim.
He reports that many of the men wrote letters home, assuring their parents that they had observed Passover.
So, in the midst of death and destruction, these Jewish soldiers improvised a seder that taught once more, the lessons of deliverance and hope. They too read at the end of their HaGaddah, “Next year in Jerusalem.” I trust that the prayer, and their Passover observance strengthens them, as it will, I know, for us.
The casualties in our war against Covid-19 have been overwhelming. Medical professionals have been beating back the virus. Vaccines are on the way for all, young and old. Relief forces are on the way.
Tell the Passover story. Hear about redemption and deliverance.
May the ancient narrative help calm us today.
If need be, let us improvise a seder as did the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio.
And, let us say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Rabbi Fred Pomerantz