The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan, April 8th – April 16th, 2020. Passover (Pesach) commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Pesach is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.
In Hebrew it is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because G‑d passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve.
Each of the 10 plagues leading to the release of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt increasingly worsens the lot of the Egyptian people, yet Pharaoh continues in stubbornness to prove he considers himself a god to be obeyed. He has no empathy for the suffering of his people. We understand the phrase “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” as “God only knows why Pharaoh’s heart was so hard.”
When we recite the 10 Plagues at this year’s Passover Seder – virtual or within the household – I believe we should NOT add the Coronavirus! While it is a plague, it is not an indictment from God as were the blood, frogs… darkness, and the alienation of the first born, the next generation. We must understand COVID-19 not as coming from God, and there is no easy cure: all Pharaoh had to do was to respond to the call, “Let My People go!” With regard to the Coronavirus, there is no flip of a light switch that will immediately release us from the bondage of isolation.
Rabbi Rick Sherwin is a graduate of UCLA, and ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.
This isolating virus reflects the Divine Desire for us to work together in the quest for world-wide health. Jewish Tradition teaches that God is not a Pharaoh to be obeyed, but rather an Educating Parent offering the inspiration to reflect the 13 Godly Attributes, which include compassion, kindness, patience, slowness to anger, and forgiveness.
In the face of illness, Jewish Tradition pictures God sadly saying to the nations of the earth, “I gave you the gifts of creativity and vision, intuition and insight, to stop the disease from spreading, to offer comfort and healing to those who are ill, and to create a vaccine. Use My gifts, and you will find that the cure is in your hands.”
Here’s to a Passover observance that takes us from darkness to light, from isolation to communal involvement, from illness to health, from slavery to freedom.