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How We Move “From Degradation to Exultation”

Fifteen hundred years ago, we were taught that if there is plague in the city, “gather your feet” – that is, limit the time you spend out of the house. As it is stated in the verse: “And none of you shall go out of the opening of his house until the morning.’ (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama, 60b).

Our Sages look to the night of the original Pesach in Egypt as the prooftext for how to behave during a pandemic. On that mysterious night when everyone was keenly aware that a historic event was unfolding before them, on that frightful night when every Egyptian household was grieving for its firstborn, on that night of anticipation when the dough was prepared for the journey and had no time to rise, our ancestors were commanded by God to stay home and eat their Pesach meal, their first taste of freedom.

This year we are recreating that original experience in ways we never have before. Each household must shelter-in-place. When we taste the maror, it won’t be so far a stretch of the imagination to understand the bitterness of fear. When we taste the saltwater tears, it will be easy to identify with the anxiety our ancestors must have felt when facing the unknown. And, it is also true that when we lean on a pillow, we are grateful for the creature comforts we still enjoy. When we sing Hallel, we praise God who is Eternal and will see that the Jewish People and all humanity survive yet another disaster of our own making. When we open the door for Eliyahu the prophet and declare, “Next year in Jerusalem!” we will put our hopeful eyes on the horizon, when all the world will be made whole and no one will be afraid.

Take it Easy

I promise you, on the fateful and faithful night of Pesach in Egypt, there was no crystal, no china, no chicken soup from scratch with floating mandlen, no seasonal asparagus, no flourless chocolate cake or raspberry sorbet. I can hear my mother-in-law saying, “It isn’t Pesach without those melon-shaped jelly candies.”

Yes, do your spring cleaning and do what you can to make Yom Tov special and to give you and your family a lift. But do not do what you ought not do. Only extend yourselves in ways that are healthy. Do not try to pretend it’s the same as it ever was. It isn’t.

I love the hustle and bustle which usually overtake the Bathurst Street corridor this time of year. However, this year I write to tell you, please keep it simple. Don’t sweat it. Improvise where you can. And forgive yourselves when you can’t. More than God wants you to have a shank bone on your table, God wants you to stay home instead of hitting one more store in a last-ditch effort to complete your seder plate. These symbols are powerful, but they are only symbols. They are there to trigger our memories, our values, our storytelling, our sparks of faith and commitment. We can get there even without the symbols to point us in those good directions. All we need this year is intension and the themes of the holy day can be ours in very real and meaningful ways.

All are welcome to join in Holy Blossom’s Virtual Seder. You are welcome to pass this invitation to family and friends, no matter where they are gathering. We only ask that everyone registers in advance, so we can provide you with the Zoom link to the link to the Hagaddah. I’ll look for you around our Virtual Seder table and again for our uplifting Live Streamed Yom Tov Services. This promises to be a meaningful and most memorable Pesach for us all.

Expressions of Gratitude even now

What verses would you write to this year’s rousing rendition of Dayeinu?

If only my loved ones and I were healthy,     

 If only my government were good and trustworthy and proactive,

 If only the medical professionals were showing up to work every day, despite the risks,

 If only the grocery stores and pharmacies were still open to provide for the essentials of life,

 If only I had a phone line to hear the voices of those I love,

 If only I had internet access to connect with my congregation for prayer and sacred learning,

 If only I had books on my shelf to read,

 If only I could listen to the music that I love,

 If only I could go outside to open a window for fresh air,

 If only the sun came up each morning and set each evening, come what may,

 If only I had good neighbours who are there for me if I ever need help,

 If only I had a tablecloth and candlesticks to make “this night different from all other nights.”

 If only I had the Jewish story that transports me from the narrow places of Mitzrayim to the wide-open expanses of the wilderness, where God is near and the Promised Land is on the horizon,

I wish you all Shabbat Shalom. May Shabbat bring her rest and restoration to a weary world. I wish you a Chag Sameach. May Pesach bring us from “degradation to exultation,” from the low places of captivity to the higher ground of health and hope for the future.

Be well.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Ruth Ellen Greenwood

    Dear Yael,
    Thank you again for your inspiring words of wisdom. We have never experienced times like these before. (And may we never experience them again when this nightmare is over.) We are seeing everything in a new light, and even the smallest event is extra special. The cardinal and the woodpecker who joined us on the feeder for dinner last night gave us such pleasure. Pesach and the Seder and all that this holiday entails will be very different this year. Thanks to your wisdom and guidance, we will enjoy it all, but just in a different way.
    Stay strong; stay healthy; stay home. This, too, shall pass, and we will be together again in health and happiness.
    Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach.
    Ruth Ellen and Sheldon Greenwood and Family

  • Ken Cohen

    If only the members of Holy Blossom had the best rabbi they could ever ask for: A rabbi who could show them the way and teach them so much, A rabbi who could speak with such wisdom and listen with such understanding. A rabbi who could set an example they could teach to their children. A rabbi of courage whom they could love.

  • Kathy Fremes

    I found this inspiring and so appropriate. Thank you for your wisdom and this wonderful address.

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