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Passover After the Plague  #772

03/31/2023 05:19:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Shabbat HaGadol: The Big Pre-Pesach Shabbat
Passover after the plague

It’s been almost three years to the day, that each of us entered one of the most fragile and uncertain periods of our lives.

Do you remember Passover, 2020?

What was this plague that afflicted us? There were so many questions—so many unknowns.

Would we, our family and friends survive? What about humanity? Who would protect us? What was the solution?

Darkness descended upon the land.

We knew very little 36 months ago. And that insecurity became most pronounced with the arrival of Passover.

Large Seders were called off. We scrambled to master the art of Zoom. We could wave, but we could not hug.

How much risk were we willing to tolerate? Were there Pharaohs? Who would be our Moses?

But here we are approaching Passover 2023, and so much has changed – largely for the good. We value life, our relationships, and the blessing of touch so much more.

We deeply mourn the 6.9 million people who perished worldwide—more than 1.2 million of them in the United States. Each one of us knows—or is related to—someone who did not survive.

Most of us have experienced this plague first hand. Many are still battling the aftermath, or less deadly variants of the disease.

And yes, like most of you, I approach this year’s Passover with a profound desire to move on. But as my wife and I went shopping this week to prepare for our Seder, we were struck by a sense of returning home.

Supermarkets were packed. There was a sense of cautious relief in the air. And as we walked toward our vehicle, our cart packed with groceries, I turned to my wife and said:

“Do you remember where we were three years ago?”

Friends, we have a tendency in life to move on. We often face a crisis, an illness or a time of uncertainty, and after we have overcome it, we focus on the future.

It’s the story of the person praying for a parking space, and when one opens, looking at the heavens and saying, “Never mind, God, I found one.”

Indeed, the ageless story of Pesach beckons us to link the generations of Israel with those who overcame slavery in pursuit of freedom.

Our eventual liberation from Egypt, it has been said, created “spiritual antibodies” within each of us to pursue a better world based on empathy, care and compassion. It is the central Jewish mission.

For thousands of years, we have thanked God for our liberation from Egypt, but this year, there is more to express.

In 2021, we held “hybrid” Seders. In 2022, the door for Elijah the Prophet opened a bit wider.

But this year, as we gather in larger numbers, let us take a moment to reflect not only upon events that occurred 3,400 years ago, but also upon the three-year journey we have endured.

We have become more understanding of our families and friends, appreciating their blessings and accepting their imperfections, as we hope they do of us.

We treasure more the beauty of a hug.

We better understand that a true and free society not only involves guarding our own safety, but also the health and welfare of others.

On this Passover, 2023, let us not only tip our glasses in memory of the 10 biblical plagues, but also commit ourselves to finding antidotes for new plagues that afflict us:

Safety of our children, poverty, intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism, misuse of social media, hunger, homelessness and environmental degradation – to name a few.

Ma Nishtana HaPesach HaZeh? Why is this Passover different than all others?

We appreciate more how precious life is—how sacred family and friends are, and how important it is—above all—to pursue Shalom Ba’it—peace in our homes.

To flatten our souls like a piece of matzah, and remove the bloat of stubbornness, jealousy and inflexibility.

The Talmud tells a story of how—as God was creating the world—God asked the Angel of Truth whether to create humanity.

The angel answered, “No.”

“This person will claim they have the truth and another will say they have the truth, and the two will battle each other, destroying your world in the process.”

God then approached the Angel of Peace and asked the same question. The angel answered, “Yes, create humanity.

“For humans will learn that in order to survive, they will need to compromise.” And upon that advice, God created humanity.

This Passover, as family, friends and guests gather, and we look across the table, let us cherish what we have.

Let us listen, and let us learn. Let us treasure the value of breath, which Covid worked so hard to extinguish.

The great Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote:

“Let mutual concern replace remnants of mutual contempt as we share the precarious position of being human.”

Let us recall these lessons, as we retrace the Exodus from 2020, and embrace common ground at our Passover tables this year.

Three years ago, we were united under Covid. We have survived.

Let us relish that liberation and our freedom to pursue our God-given paths—free to gather, to walk our streets and break matzah together.

Let this Passover be one of true humility and celebration. We have grown so much since 2020. We perhaps relate, work and worship with more insight and gratitude.

To so many things that were wasting our precious energy, we have said, Dayenu.

So, with cautious optimism, let us embrace that new start and a more humble and compassionate journey into the future.

As we gather for Passover this year, let us truly embrace new beginnings.

For three years ago, we were enslaved.

This year, we are free.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784