Virus: We want it to pass over us

Passover begins Wednesday evening and I can’t imagine why this didn’t occur to me earlier. There are a couple of startling points of contact between the Jewish holiday and the current pandemic.

Passover, also known as Pesach, reaches back to the time of Moses, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.

Traditionally, on the first night of Passover, Jews around the world gather around the dinner table for a seder, which means “order,” because there is a specific order of tasks that must happen during a long meal punctuated by prayers and rituals. 

What must be done is written in a booklet called the Haggadah that is read during the service, usually by an elder. 

The Haggadah tells the story of the redemption of the Jewish people and the Exodus from 400 years of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel.

Slavery did not end easily. 

Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt after being found by Pharaoh’s daughter in an ark in a river. His mother had floated him away to escape Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male Jewish newborns. After learning that he was actually Jewish, Moses empathized with the Jewish slaves.

He asked Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Pharaoh being all-powerful and arrogant, refused, even after Moses showed him a few magic tricks. You know, the staff turning into a serpent, like in the movie. 

To help soften Pharaoh’s hard heart, Moses warns that God will visit plagues on Egypt and its people. Pharaoh snorts that he has gods, too. Lots of them. 

During the seder, the plagues are recounted — frogs, boils, hail, locusts, flies, darkness — and the final, the most terrible, the slaying of the first born.

On the night God’s wrath was to come, the story goes, Jews were warned to stay at home — the old, original shelter in place — after dabbing lamb’s blood on their doorways, so that the invisible death will “pass over” their homes.

You might think of COVID-19 as a plague, but one that does not seek only the first-born. It does not discriminate. 

The Israelites only had to stay in for one night. We must stay inside for weeks or months to avoid the plague.

There is a lot to eat and drink during the seder. Included among the rituals is repeated hand washing. Sound familiar? (Purell is optional.)

That is a similarity, but one required ritual will not happen. The seder leader is required to welcome strangers at the door: “Let all who are hungry enter and eat.” This year it is too dangerous to admit people we do not know. We can’t even invite our whole family. Maybe none of them. Under social distance rules, only the prophet Elijah, who visits every Jewish home, can enter. 

The rules are new, and sad, and frightening.

Caution is required. If we are observant and careful, we will survive, too, and emerge as unified as the Israelites.

24 thoughts on “Virus: We want it to pass over us”

  1. Stu – that is a great depiction of a 2020 Seder plate above. If that doesn’t define Passover 2020, I don’t what else would. And thank you for explaining Passover in great detail to our non-Jewish friends. You basically did nearly the whole story in less than a minute. LoL

    As far as Passover 2020 goes, this will be basically the first Passover in about 3000 years that was cancelled due to a plague.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Passover cancelled? Hardly! There are no less than 100 virtual Seders available from various web sites. (Chabad.org comes to mind). My own synagogue has scheduled 2 on Facebook Live. It won’t be the same, but it will be observed in my home and thousands of others, worldwide, and in Israel!
    Chag Sameach! A Zizen Pesach!

    1. Yo, Bob, it was meant to be a joke (cancelling Passover due to a plague). Our shul in Marlton is also doing virtual Seders via Zoom, and I see advertising for many more here in Southern NJ from the various synagogues. The point is that it’s not quite the same when you can’t get together (literally) with one’s friends, esp. for many of us empty nesters who don’t have family Seders any more.

      For that matter, our regional Men’s Club – South Jersey Men’s Club, is conducting a shiva minyan this morning (via Zoom) for a member’s recently deceased wife (April 1). His children are around the world, and this way, at least they can all “tune in” and have some connection with what’s going on.

  3. My wife and I have been privileged on two occasions to not only attend a seder but at one I was honored to be able to recite the wine prayer (which was taught to me years ago by a Jewish friend). We are Roman Catholic, but we know our own faith sprung from Judaism, so we feel as kindred spirits at this time — Passover and Easter — even as we recognize the gulf between our faiths. One G-d, one Father of us all.

    1. The gulf between our faiths is as narrow as it ever has been. Thanks to the Second Ecumenical Council convened by Pope John XXIII, who I call the Jewish Pope. He exonerated Jews as killers of Christ.

      1. Sin– which entered into the world in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis) — not Jews, killed Jesus. It took John XXIII (and too many years) to put that shibboleth to rest.

  4. Stu-
    I think Randy said it best! A great depiction of a 2020 Seder Plate and a wonderful distillation of the story of Passover. Thank you!
    Wishing you a great holiday and an easy “social distancing”!

  5. The column sagaciously suggests a parallel between events in ancient Egypt and the challenges of today. By studying the Law of Moses and the Old Testament, Christians can gain significant appreciation for their faith. Passover is a great example of that.

    1. David – you must be a current or retired English teacher LoL. I had to look up “sagacious.” Don’t think I’ve witnessed that word since college days.

      1. Randy: I retired from the publishing business. Now I pass my time helping friends’ offspring with their school papers. Crossword puzzles provide good brain exercise.

        1. Ah – now I know the secret of your word power! Makes perfect sense. No wonder you managed to figure out my earlier “proofreader” faux pas..

  6. Stuff you bring back many memories. My dad was a cantor and every year we had. The family and friends. It seemed to last forever. It’s as if it were yesterday when they would change dishes and dad would take the chomitz on a wooden spoon to the Rabbi for disposal. Now there is almost no family left and those that are no longer live in the NYC vicinity. It is a time to reflect.

    1. Memory is so funny. I can smell the seder my grandfather conducted at 600 (i don’t use full address for security reasons, but YOU know it, my dear friend.)

  7. Though my Catholic niece’s husband is Jewish (with two children,) I knew little about the seder until today. Thank you Stu.

    Knowing my niece, I’m certain they practiced it. The children, in their thirties now, were taught both religions, compliments…. my niece. My (nephew-in-law), if you will, doesn’t practice Judaism, unlike his parents did.
    I do know how he enjoys our huge family gatherings for Christmas. His dry humor keeps us laughing! I will miss him this Easter!! Damn virus.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the little lesson.
      As I have said before, considering everything (such as security) America is the promised land for Jews. Safety, opportunity, acceptance, starting with George Washington.

  8. As a Roman Catholic, I am grateful to our Jewish ancestors who brought us belief in one God. The Old Testament is filled with landmarks guiding our way to Our Creator.
    I have just finished the book Feasts of the Bible by Dr. Sam Nadler with my non-denominational Bible study group, and Stu, your synopsis of the feast is right on target and well-presented. Thank you.

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