Many of you asked for a copy of my sermon from this past Shabbat. It is pasted below. I encourage everyone to heed its message that what ever you can do to honor the traditions of Passover in these trying times, is “enough”.
4.4.20. Shabbat HaGadol, Tzav
Rabbi Jaymee Alpert
Today is Shabbat HaGadol – the Shabbat immediately before Passover. Traditionally, it was one of two times during the year that the rabbi would give a sermon, and often, the rabbi would talk about the minutiae of the laws of Pesach – of which there is plenty. I am not going to lecture you this morning on how to kasher your kitchen, or how to rid your house of chametz, or which foods need a special label.
This is not the year for minutiae. This is a year for doing the best we can. Honestly, it’s really all we can ever ask of ourselves, but this year it is especially true. And I have a feeling, that our best this year will be different from our best in other years. And that’s okay – our reality is different.
As Passover is about to begin, we must acknowledge that the holiday will look and feel different. You might find yourself with more chametz in the house than you usually do just four days before Pesach – Danny and I certainly do.
If you keep kosher for Passover, you might need to relax your standards a bit, depending on what is available and what types of errands you feel safe running. The Rabbinical Assembly has published more lenient guidelines for keeping Passover in this time of the Corona Virus.
If you are used to having a houseful of guests for seder, your home might feel empty – just remember that even if you host a virtual seder, you probably don’t need to cook for 20. And if you are used to being a guest for seder, you might be wondering how on earth you’re going to deal with an elaborate ritual. Even with the many resources online, it can be quite overwhelming, so I’ll say again: we are going to do the best we can. And we are going to forgive ourselves if/when we think we are falling short.
My colleague, Rabbi Sue Fendrick wrote a piece that appeared in Times of Israel the other day that I found quite meaningful. Her writing gave me permission to be okay with the reality of doing Pesach differently, and maybe even a bit ‘less than,’ so I would like to share it with you.
It is entitled:
“YOU ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE A SH’VACH* SEDER.”
You do not need to set up a multi-media, multi-layered presentation on Zoom. You do not need to cook 17 dishes that remind you of all the family members you are not gathering with. You do not need to do all the cool things that people are suggesting for small seders. You do not need to compile an “in these times”-themed haggadah or seder supplement.
You are living through an international pandemic. For all of the support you have, for all of the jokes people are making, for all of the new Torah that is being learned…you are experiencing a collective trauma as an individual, within the daled amot/delimited space of your own home and your own life. You may be managing others’ experience of that trauma. You are dealing with challenges you have never faced before. You may feel scared, angry, depressed, or lost.
If you want to and can do any of the above for a maximalist seder night, great. But if you don’t want to or can’t, it is totally fine to cook a modest meal, throw together a seder plate at the last minute, get up to make salt water when it’s time for karpas (dipping the green herb or vegetable) because you forgot to do it before, make decisions on the fly about how much to talk about each step of the seder and what to read and not to read.
Light the candles. Bless the wine/grape juice and the holiday. Eat the symbols. Be together – in whatever way you can. Talk about some things. Read some things. Be energized, or be tired. Do things you never did before because “what an opportunity to have an intimate seder”, or do the minimum.
You do not need to make up for the seder you are not having, or the seder you wish you could have. Do this year’s seder(s) however that works for you this year. Do your best to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy. Connect to the themes of Passover—getting out of narrow places, celebrating life, gratitude, remembering our obligations to each other and to all others.
Dayeinu. That is more than enough.”
Fendrick’s last point is such an important one – this year, even connecting to the themes of the holiday will feel different than in other years. We are currently living in Mitzrayim – in a confining, restricted, limited place. We are living in a time of anxiety – we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We do not even know what the next news alert will bring, and those pop up every ten minutes.
But let’s remember that the first seder observance also took place in Mitzrayim – the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt when they were commanded to eat the lamb hurriedly, with clothes and shoes on and staff in hand, ready to run at a moment’s notice – they too were living in an age of anxiety – even as the painted their doorposts with the blood of the lamb to protect themselves from the tenth plague, they could not have known what would happen next.
Remarkably, however, the Israelites were also told to celebrate. Exodus 12:14 says, “this day shall be to you one of remembrance; you shall celebrate it as a festival to Adonai throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time.”
How do we celebrate being freed from Egypt when we are living in Mitzrayim?
I believe the answer is gratitude. We offer gratitude. We count our blessings. We say Dayeinu. If we can Zoom to be with loved ones on seder night – Dayeinu; if we have enough matzah for the week or even just for seder – Dayeinu; if we have friends to call when we feel lonely – Dayeinu; if we can go for a walk outside – Dayeinu. If we can hold onto the knowledge that one day we will be free to greet each other in person – Dayeinu.
Our Torah reading earlier this morning came from Parashat Tzav – a parashah that goes into great detail about the various types of offerings that the Israelites would make at the mishkan. There is an offering called the Shelamim that an individual could bring as a thanksgiving or freewill sacrifice. The Hebrew word shelamim comes from the same root as shalom – peace or wholeness.
I will admit that I am not feeling particularly whole or at peace right now – but I am feeling incredibly thankful.
I am thankful for doctors, nurses, and health care professionals who put the needs of the sick before their own. I am thankful for custodians, cashiers in supermarkets, and truck drivers for enabling us to have access to what we need, again, at the risk of becoming ill themselves.
I am thankful for teachers who have moved their lessons online so that students may continue to learn. I am grateful for fresh air and exercise. I am grateful for my family and friends, and for the technology that is allowing us to remain connected.
I am grateful for this incredible community that has been flexible and patient and willing to try new things, all while checking in on one another and keeping each other company from a safe distance.
I imagine that you also have list of things for which you are grateful. I’ll invite you to take a moment to think about those things and those people.
Shabbat Shalom and a Ziessen Pesach