The sweetest moment of the Passover Seder is when the youngest child stands up and asks the “Four Questions,” which begin, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Jews in New Haven, America, and around the world did not have any difficulty in answering this question when they sat down to their seders this past Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The coronavirus has made the night that is different more different than we ever could have imagined.
The holiday of Passover is about tradition, faith and family. In order to stay safe and limit risk, we had to celebrate with our immediate family only. Some had to be alone. We took comfort in the familiar rituals and favorite dishes of the past, to hold on to “the normal” in the face of the abnormal, the bizarre, and the tragic global plague of COVID-19.
The seder is a home ritual that weaves together the telling of the narrative of the biblical Exodus of the ancient Jews from slavery in Egypt, with drinking wine, asking questions, debating answers, eating a festive meal and offering prayers of thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty for the miracles wrought in the salvation of the people. The word “seder” in Hebrew means “order.” The first night of Passover is called the “night of order.” The simple explanation is that we follow the fifteen steps of the seder. It is complicated. There are many parts to the ritual: symbols, cups of wine, study of biblical passages, eating matzo, bitter herbs. ... We need to have a script to know what to do next.
I think there is more to it than simply needing a practical guide to complete the ritual. The deeper message is that there is order in the world. Genesis teaches that God created the world — from chaos to order, from darkness to light, and from nothingness to life. Just as there is order in the cosmos, there is order in the affairs of humankind. Sometimes we cannot see the hand of God, but we must believe that it is there. Sometimes we cannot understand or comprehend what is happening, but we affirm that in a future moment things will become clear. We need our faith now more than ever.
Passover and Easter invariably come together. This year Ramadan begins April 23. It is no coincidence that the three most prominent monotheistic religions are celebrating important festivals of faith at the height of one of the most virulent plagues seen by the world in more than a century.
The Jews of the first Passover also had to stay home and stay safe until the plague ended. In the morning they left as free men and women.
All men and women of faith! Let’s renew our faith in God and in each other. Let’s pray that the plague ends soon. And when it does, let’s bring in a new world, a world of peace, love and kindness for all.