Passover in the wake of Covid-19

It is time for the Great Annual Story-telling of the Exodus, and time to revisit the grand sweep of my  personal and tribal freedom. As I gather some meagre energy to prepare for a 2nd online year of Passover Seder, I bow deeply in gratitude that the plague of Covid-19 has passed over my household. No sheep’s blood on the lintel to notify the Angel of Death to pass over this home. But a whole American racialized history that has delivered me to a life of one unearned protection after another. Working from home. Well-fed. Broadband enough to nourish friendships and learning communities and spaces for practice and deep connection. Teaching that I am passionate, immersed in, find students are hungry for.

The Biblical story enjoins those of us who crossed safely on dry land through the Reed Sea not to rejoice too much. God mourns the dead Egyptians.  I find myself disturbingly satisfied, if not rejoicing, at the death of virus naysayers – oh well: karma. While a lot of good plain folk succumbed as they “did the right thing.” Or the “necessary thing” – whether as healthcare professionals, support and housekeeping staff, or as “essential” workers.

Gratitude for the unsung

A word about hospital housekeeping staffs. If you or someone close to you has spent some time as a patient or family member, you know this: the housekeeping staff often are the most real and human spiritual and emotional support for the hospitalized and their families. They are often the ones who notice a patient is in need of real contact, a real inquiry into how you’re doing, a reassuring word, a question about the family photo on your nightstand.

Like a patient in a hospital gown whose humanity and individuality disappears into her charted illness, the housekeeping staff shares, due to different and yet related appearances, a certain invisibility with the patient.

God extends Her unearned Kindness

I would like nothing more than to be plucked out of the Covid-19 version of Pharoah’s Egypt. This paradoxical year of on-screen intimacy and off-screen isolation

We are told: we were taken out of Egypt.

That this was an act of pure Kindness on God’s part, executed by His Mighty Hand and Outstretched Arm.

That there was nothing we had to do to earn it.

That there was no inquiry to determine that we were deserving.

That the sea parted before us and closed over the Egyptian chariots, mired in mud.

That on the eighth day, Miriam led the women in dance.

We are told: after we were taken out of Egypt, we wandered in the wilderness for another 40 years, long enough for the enslaved generation to die out.

That is how long it took to get the Egypt out of us, to gain the freedom freely bestowed.

Making the story personal: yes, this really is happening to me and mine

At any given moment I can find myself the recipient of gratuitous and enormous Kindness, and slogging wearily through a wilderness, where my personal history refuses to give up the ghost.

I belong to a tribe of freed people who nevertheless have to claim liberation by dint of persistent effort, in the face of temporary defeat, in the arms of temporary refuge.

Every year we gather to tell the story.

We are advised: live the story, don’t just tell it.

We are advised: the more we elaborate in the telling of the story, the better.

Our elaborations over our family seder table have included over the years truth-tales of the Holocaust, of Russian Refuseniks, of the lost and the survivors of the Middle Passage, of the slaughtered of Darfur, of the countless losses of Mother Earth.

Bringing redemption one action at a time

At one point in the story-telling we open the door of our house and invite in Elijah the Prophet to sip at the wine we have set aside for him.

We are told: in this season it is Elijah the Prophet who may turn the hearts of parents and children towards one another, thereby holding off total destruction of the earth.

In a recent teaching from the Talmud, I learned from Rabbi Steve Sager that Elijah at one point seemed to conspire with Rabbi Meir to bring the Final Redemption before its time by setting up a father and sons whose prayers were known to be particularly potent. An unidentified “they” (speculatively, angels) “summoned Elijah and lashed him with 60 pulses of light,” after which he appeared, “in the likeness of a fiery bear” to break up the prayer gathering before the dead could be raised.

I would like nothing more than to be plucked out of the Covid-19 version of Pharaoh’s Egypt, our civic acrimony, the proliferation of lies and conspiracies, and our other current ills. 

I would like also to be plucked from my shortnesses of temper, empathy, and generosity. I too would like to hurry the Redemption along.

I just have to be willing to do that one act, one phrase, one moment of presence at a time. 

May we in this of all years take it upon ourselves 

to turn our hearts towards one another, 

both trusting in the gratuitous Kindness 

and dedicated each to our own persistent effort 

on behalf of one another’s freedom.

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