Here in Israel Bibi declared complete lockdown for Seder night, threatening arrest or a fine to anyone found on the streets. No, he wasn’t overreacting and he’s not planning on turning the country into a police state.
He simply knows his customers. He knows we are not only stiff-necked people but also homing pigeons, programmed in our DNA to be with loved ones on Pesach. It’s a drive so strong, so deeply ingrained that we are willing to risk everything, even our health, to be with family to celebrate our release from Egyptian slavery …. together.
But Bibi knows that, as endearing as this instinct is, that in the season of coronavirus, this kind of togetherness was also a really bad idea.
So this year there were no cousins to wrestle with, no aunts’ fluffy matzo balls to dunk in the soup, no uncles’ corny jokes to groan over, no grandparents to applaud the kids’ (nearly flawless) Four Questions.
The bitter irony of course that this year that same love of family was best expressed by staying apart.
This year the foods were far simpler, their quantities minuscule compared to the Pesachs of yesteryear. That inevitable scaling down says much about our lives this spring – a time when each one of us has been handed our individual assignment.
If you’re home with a spouse and kids, you know you’ve been tasked to heal and deepen your bond with each one of them, yes, to count to 10 a million times a day but also to have those open talks you never had time for before. Alone with your spouse? Then much of your corona-time syllabus is about pushing past the frustration, the worry and the ennui to plumb the depths of a brand-new honesty, vulnerability and, at the end of the day, maybe some new sweetness springing up between you.
But what if you find yourself at this point in your journey living alone, as I do? Strangely enough, our assignment has the potential of being the most exciting of all: piecing our life story together like an immense three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
Freed of the static of multi-tasking, in the silence we meet a barrage of long-forgotten memories: the smell of a summer night chasing fireflies with the neighborhood kids, that seder when we were allowed to drink wine with the grown-ups for the first time, walking off stage with the diploma that seemed to open up the world, the joy of your baby’s first cry.
Memories popping up from some deep place, in a flash of light, each one a clue to the mystery of who we really are and always have been. With this new gift of inner vision, maybe that’s why it’s happening in the year 20/20.
The truth is that this meteor shower of memories illuminates our soul’s sky, and the multitudinous gifts our very own Creator has showered upon us.
And, regardless of whom we live with, one assignment we all share is cranking up our personal values a notch or two. What after all do we really need for those things we so desperately wanted only a month ago? Do we truly listen or do we just wait till we can talk? Are we compassionate with others? With ourselves? And, at the end of the day, we’re forced to ask ourselves the Big Question: Who’s really in charge here?
Because even atheists must be wondering about that one right now. Evidence is mounting everywhere that there really is only the One, who brought us back down here to heal ourselves and the world, because He has every faith that we can pull it off this time.
And in case I needed more evidence, here in Israel, spring snuck in while I was holed up in my apartment. By the time I emerged, the baby pomegranate blossoms had peeked out, the red poppies were waving in the breeze and the orange blossoms were exuding a perfume that must be what heaven smells like.
Proof positive that, whether we see it or not, spring’s promise of new life and Pesach’s promise of new freedom are two things no virus can put out of business.
It wasn’t till the end of the Seder that it began to dawn on me that, in truth, we never really did all this grand-scale Pesach-ing to impress others but because it was our sacred duty to imprint those memories onto the next generation. And because our very own Creator, the One who took us out of Egypt with a mighty Hand, has told us that’s what we need to do.
And, no matter what, no matter with whom, we sang it loud and proud: Dayenu. It would have been enough.
And you know what?
It actually was.
This column (unedited) previously ran on JNS.org