Posted on April 3, 2020 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
Seder means “order” in Hebrew, and on Passover it refers to the order of the service we conduct to relive the journey from bondage to freedom. This year as we prepare for Passover we are out of order, or, as we say in Hebrew, we are lo b’seder, we are not okay.
Just a few weeks ago, most of us felt a relatively expansive sense of freedom. We could move about as we pleased. We were free to interact with one another. We could plan and hold events. Celebrations like graduations, weddings, b’nei mitzvah, britot and baby namings punctuated and elevated our lives. Now, none of these, or any other kind of in-person gathering, is possible. We have lost many of the freedoms we took for granted just a short time ago. We are constrained in a virtual mitzrayim.
We cannot even come together for funerals and shiva to mourn our losses at a time when our losses are mounting day by day. And our losses are not only physical; they are also emotional, psychological, and spiritual. David Kessler, an expert on issues of loss, identifies what almost all of us are feeling as grief: “…we’re feeling a number of different griefs,” he notes. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.” But, says Kessler, if we can name it and talk about it, we can manage it.
Retelling the story of Passover can have that kind of therapeutic effect, because, in a very eerie way, we are reliving it. We are in the midst of the 10th plague, the death of the first born, as some of our oldest and most vulnerable are dying. And whether or not we have acknowledged it, we all are praying for the angel of death to pass over our homes.
As we sacrifice many of our freedoms to avert disaster we are also threatened by the likes of the other plagues that upended life in Egypt by destroying its economy. At that time, water turned to blood and locusts devoured commodities. Today, 10 million Americans have become unemployed in just two weeks. This is assuredly akin to a sudden and devastating pestilence.
Let us not avoid recounting this narrative at our seders. We must allow ourselves to express our feelings about what is happening now because it is real, and because expressing our anxieties and pain can help to ease them.
But if we are thoughtful, we will mirror the narrative arc of the Haggadah that “begins with degradation and ends with glory.” Our people were saved. The dark of night passed and a new day dawned. We were reborn as the free people we were made to be.
Passover is the story of a miraculous redemption — “God saved us with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” But it is also a story of a resilient people that took action to save itself. The Torah says that during the plague of darkness there was light in the homes of the Israelites. The Midrash tells us that this light is a metaphor for the ways we helped each other to cope and keep our faith and hope alive.
This is the story we must tell this Passover — the story we are writing as we live it — the tale of people determined not to allow even the most dire circumstances crush our spirits. The stories of brave women and men who are bearing burdens of all kinds to save lives, and of young and old who are doing acts of kindness and caring to sustain bodies and souls.
For me, the heart of the Seder experience is embodied in the song dayenu, “it would have been enough.” It is a litany of gratitude, a search for the light amidst the darkness. This, above all, is what has always sustained our people through our many times of trial. We look for and find the good.
And this is what we must do now. We must look for the good in this moment — for if we do, we will find it. We must do this for ourselves, and especially for our children, who look to us to assure them that there is seder, order and meaning, in the world, and that all will be b’seder, that we will be okay.
May it be our blessing this Pesach that we fulfill the words of the prophet Malachi (the words of the haftarah for this Shabbat Ha-Gadol): May “the hearts of parents be turned to their children, and the hearts of children be turned to their parents,” that our love for each other will see us through to better days.
May God bless you and your loved ones.
Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach sameach!
Rabbi Arnie Gluck