A Fifth Passover Question for This Pandemic Year

Perhaps this year we have a new question to ask at the seder. How is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

On all our other Passovers there were no pandemics, but on this Passover, COVID-19 plagues the world. On this Passover we feel a plague of scarcity, with a shortage of ventilators, protective gear and hospital beds. We also feel the plague of darkness. In Egypt, according to one interpretation, the plague of darkness was not literal. It was a plague that resulted in people not seeing others, and therefore, not responding to one another’s needs. By the time the ninth plague hit, the people had stopped reaching out to check in on one another’s welfare and to offer assistance to their less fortunate neighbors. No one played their part to help mitigate the situation. Instead, they lived their lives as if each person was solely dependent on themselves, independent of anyone else in society.

Social distancing is a way of caring for one another. However, we must remember that it is not the only way to care for one another. There are other ways to help and to reach out to offer assistance. We can still be responsible for one another even as we remain apart. We should all be encouraged to continue to reach out to friends and family during this trying time. Our sacred texts remind us of our obligation to be aware of others even as we take care of ourselves. As it is written in the Torah, “If, however, there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) Additionally, Passover and the weeks leading up to it are an opportunity to give maot chittim, gifts of sustenance to people in need. Please consider a donation through Shaarei Tikvah or by contributing to a charity of your choice. Some suggested sites are below. Perhaps this year in lieu of feeding the guests we would have invited to our seder, we instead make a donation in their honor.

We are feeling social distancing greatly with the nearing of Passover, which is usually a time when many gather with friends and family or join together in community sedarim. At the seder, we remember a time when we were slaves in Egypt, unable to celebrate our religion as a free people. We gather with multiple generations of our families to practice the special customs that we have enjoyed together every year. Often it is one of the only occasions when the whole family gathers together. And it seems unfathomable that we currently won’t be able to celebrate in this way.

It is clear based on New York State’s Department of Health guidelines that such gatherings must not happen this year. The best public health advice at this moment is for everyone to stay home. This is for our own health and the health of society at large. As such, Passover Seders should only be celebrated with the members of one’s immediate household, even if that means not spending seder night together with the family. We understand that this will be a heartbreaking reality and a major disruption for many. However, our health and well being must come first. To paraphrase the Talmud: Better we should have one less-than-ideal Passover, so that we can celebrate many Passovers in the future. (Yoma 85b)

That being said, there are many wonderful ways to celebrate Passover, even as we limit human contact. First, I encourage you to connect with others through electronic means. This could include sharing a seder with others by using Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp, or other communication tools. Under normal circumstances, I would not encourage using any of these electronic modes of communicating since Passover is a Yom Tov, a sacred occasion, in which creative work, melachah, is prohibited according to Jewish Law. In my interpretation, this includes the prohibition of using electricity, and by extension, activating any online method of communication such as the examples above. However, during this moment of Sha’at hadchak, extenuating circumstances, caused by this global pandemic, I am encouraging anyone to use these online tools to virtually join a Pesach seder since it is a clear danger to physically join someone else’s seder. I recommend turning on the computer and accessing the seder before shkiah, sunset (7:28 pm) on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Please reach out to me with any specific questions about this.

If you would like technical guidance in utilizing these or other tools please let Alison know and she can connect you with someone to help. It is important for our community that no one should be alone for the seder who doesn’t wish to be. Please let Alison know if you would like to host someone else (virtually) or be hosted (virtually) for seder and we will set you up.
Second, attached to the bottom of this email is a list of resources that were compiled by Rachel Mann for you to review to help add to the meaning of your sedarim. Please reach out to me or to Rachel with questions regarding preparing your seder.

To help you prepare for a kosher seder, check out this Passover Kashrut Guide which gives you plenty of information about purchasing, kashering, and preparing food for the holiday. Please remember that in the face of a challenging environment we should all remember to take it easy and focus on getting to the basics of our holiday shopping and preparation. It is important for us to remain in our homes as much as possible in order to save lives. Therefore, please limit your trips out of the house and think about what you basically need in order to celebrate the holiday.

Each year we sell our chametz so that we do not legally own any leavened bread during the holiday. Please click the attached Mechirat chametz form and follow the instructions to sell your chametz. It is a custom to include a donation with your form. I encourage you to donate to the charity of your choice or to the White Plains Hospital Pastoral Care program called Pastoral Care Code Visits to support their staff as they heroically take care of our loved ones and put themselves into harm’s way for our sake. To donate click here. Specify that the donation is for Other and fill in Pastoral Care Code Program. Please let Rabbi Adam know if you make a donation here.

Lastly, if you are a first born, please join us on Wednesday morning, April 8th, at 8:00 am for minyan and a short study siyum on Zoom so you don’t have to fast that day. You are welcome to join us if you are not a first born, too. Click here for a deeper explanation of the fast. We will be celebrating the completion of the Second Book of Kings, which we have been studying in my weekly Bible class. I will also be studying Mishna Masechet Pesachim. Check out chapter ten of the Mishna to take part in our learning in advance of the siyyum. We will celebrate afterwards with a festive breakfast…at each of our own homes!

Please reach out to me with your questions and concerns. I am available to discuss with you how Passover can be meaningful despite this difficult moment. I wish you and your families a zissen Pesach. May you feel the joy of this holiday of freedom even in the midst of the restrictions we are currently living through. May we be blessed with health, unity, and a sense of peace.

Health and blessings,
Rabbi Adam

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