Opinion | Why Is This Night Different?

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By Rabbi Charles Sherman

This year, in particular, the question, as well as the answer, takes on greater relevance. In years past, we talked about the matzah, the bitter herbs, the vegetable “dippings,” “reclining” around the seder table.

But when we ask this question now, with a global pandemic, the questions and answers are about what we do now, how we do it, or even if we do it.

In years past, I would be leading a Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El community seder. There would be the traditional foods, conversations, text study, lots of singing. The second night of Passover I would be having family and friends at our home for a seder, a little more informal, lots of stories, even some silliness, while still fulfilling the regulations of the seder.

When this whole thing broke out, the first thing to go by the wayside was the community seder. It would be too thoughtless, and not safe, to bring people together. Certainly, I thought to myself, we would continue on with our family seder.

But then several days ago, we had to make a decision — that even the family seder would not take place. It would be putting us in danger. So this year it will be Leah and myself, a seder for two.

I am sure many of you share with us the sadness of this reality. We had hopes of being with grandchildren and family. There is a sense of isolation and loneliness. In Jewish tradition there is a recognition that not everyone has someone to be with — if you have a seder for one, do the questions still need to be asked?

I find myself at an intersection — what do we do in this unchartered territory? Are there limitations? What is forbidden, what is allowed? What I am guided by is the directive we all know: “Choose life.”

Here are my rabbinic suggestions, and what I am going to do this year. I hope you will follow my lead.

On Passover cleaning, just do the best you can. Your best is fine. Do not throw away chametz. We do not know how long this thing is going to last. If you want, you can simply cover the chametz up, place it in another cabinet; perishables can be kept on designated shelves in your refrigerator or freezer.

Some of us truly will be alone. Technology is an incredible thing. While some of us do not use technology on Shabbat or holidays, this year I certainly intend to do so. Many of us have cell phones that we can put on speaker. I would urge you to connect with family or friends through your seder.

MBIEE will offer a virtual seder, and Leah and I invite you to join us at our virtual dinner table. There are other virtual seders as well, and Passover services offered by various synagogues.

As you know, when we end the seder, what we say to each other is “Next year in Jerusalem.” These words end the seder on a hopeful note, looking with optimism to the future. Jerusalem becomes a state of mind. “Next year in Jerusalem” is about rebuilding our dreams, hopes and opportunities. It is about renewing our faith and belief and envisioning a time when all things that are broken can be repaired.

Next year in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Charles Sherman
Rabbi Charles Sherman (Courtesy of Rabbi Charles Sherman)

Rabbi Charles Sherman is the spiritual leader of Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park and the author of “The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy After Heartbreak” (Scribner/Simon and Schuster).

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