Every year that we gather around the Seder table there is some event, some topic, some issue that makes this night and the past year different from all other years. Whether it’s in the political arena, economic wins and woes, urgent social issues, or many, many more subjects, the Pesach Seder is uniquely positioned to provide an answer to them all. The universal message of our ancestors’ Exodus is why the story has survived for so long and spread throughout the Western World. We are even told to place ourselves in the story, to see ourselves as though we were one of the Israelites fleeing from tyranny. So when we ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”we are fulfilling the enduring understanding of Pesach: once we were slaves in Egypt, today we are free, and we cannot truly celebrate our freedom until all people are free.
For the majority of us who did not grow up in a warzone, behind the Iron Curtain, or under the constant threat of economic disaster and starvation, we probably tasted the bitter taste of subjugation for the first time when COVID-19 became our daily reality. Last Pesach was the first time when not going to Seder meant we would be fulfilling the mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life. To gather around a seder table last year meant endangering our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
This Pesach, though we see glimmers of hope on the horizon, and those of us who have had two vaccines plus two weeks have negligible risk, we cannot discount the risk that we are putting our loved ones in when or if we gather. For those vaccinated individuals who gather in person, I imagine this Pesach will feel both familiar and eerie. For those who must still spend Pesach apart, I pray that this is the very last time in our lives. As we measure the last year, we have unfortunately measured by the data of our public health departments: by the number of hospital beds filled, the number of tests taken, the number of positive tests, the number of deaths, and now, thank God, the number of vaccines administered.
As we gather around the Seder table this year and we recite the four questions, “how is this night different from all other nights?” let us also ask ourselves how we are different this night compared to last Pesach. Here are four new questions to ask around your Seder this year:
- How have I grown in the past year?
- How have I witnessed oppression?
- How will I stand for justice?
- How will the story of Pesach guide me in the year ahead?
...and here you thought I was going to say we measure in “LooooOOOOooooOOOoooove”