A Pesah Message from Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg

Posted on: Friday April 3, 2020

ם.בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרי

Every year we try to connect our current experience to the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Usually that has meant trying to imagine what enslavement would have been like. Fortunately for most of us, in the past this has been a theoretical exercise or perhaps a way to increase our empathy for those who lack freedom today. But the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic have me thinking about a different aspect of the Exodus.

When our ancestors left Egypt, they would not have known what was to come. They didn’t know how long their journey would take, and they were relying on others for safety. For us who are enduring this pandemic, our experience has parallels with the journey of our ancestors in the midbar.

It is really hard

B’nai Yisrael found their experiences challenging. Having faith, even for those who experienced the splitting of the sea, is no simple task. They were concerned about their basic needs such as access to food and water, and about higher-level needs such as access to an experience of God.  In these times these are challenges that we experience personally and ones we are helping our constituents with.

We don’t have full control

Being told to eat manna, how much to collect, what they could and couldn’t do on shabbat probably didn’t sit well with those who were told that they were now free. We know that, early on, B’nai Yisrael wished that they were back in Mitzrayim (at least there were watermelons there!). A few weeks ago, we had a sense of control over our lives. Now, many of the institutions, schools, daycares, etc. that we relied on are closed. It turns out that an invisible pathogen can upend entire countries and economies. We too are experiencing grief for our routines and for plans that will not happen.

We are dependent on community

Being part of a community was crucial to survival in the wilderness. It is no less crucial now. If we are going to meet this global challenge successfully, it will depend on everyone. Countries throughout the world are all dependent on each other, it turns out. And each of us have individual people counting on us to be their source of community and connection in a very uncertain time.

While we go into a Pesah that will be very different from the one that we were expecting, it’s important to remember that, for B’nai Yisrael, their experience in the desert was still considered herut—freedom and it was worthy of celebration. Though their lives were still limited in many ways, they were now on a path towards a future they could anticipate with hope. So too with us. We hope that we will soon be able to get back to our routines and to be in physical proximity to our communities and friends. But in the meantime, we can recognize gifts to celebrate.

Wishing you and yours a zissen and healthy Pesah!