Introduction

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How do we make meaning this year at what we expect will be a small, perhaps isolating, Passover Seder?  Families are accustomed to large gatherings consisting of multiple generations, plenty of cousins and even neighbors and guests.  This year it’s likely to be just the few of us in our immediate families.  This is a little unnerving.  On the other hand, with the right frame of mind, we can have a most memorable experience. 

Rabbis, leaders, writers, speakers and professionals were asked for a sentence, paragraph or short clip with their reflections, thoughts, advice, a technique, an insight, a narrative or any other suggestion to help add meaning to this year’s Passover.

Their responses follow… 

Feel free to share your reflection. Click “Create a Post,” above.

#Stayinghome: Two Medieval Halakhic Paradigms

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Dr. Sara Labaton

I haven’t seen past the end of my block in a month. Like most of you, we are #stayinghome to #savelives. But is that really the limit of our obligation in this moment of international crisis and suffering? The hashtags make it sound like all we have to do is stay home to allow medical professionals to do their jobs and we will save lives. Everyone has their role in this pandemic and ours is to hunker down, homeschool if we have children, and do our best to work remotely. While that rhetoric might help convince people not to do what is hazardous to the public health of our society, I question whether it is a sufficient articulation of our individual responsibilities in this moment. What exactly is the extent of our moral and religious obligation in the face of a global pandemic? Do we sufficiently discharge our duties by living out the fullness of our lives confined at home, or is that the bare minimum, scratching the surface of our human responsibility? 

Quality Time Alone

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Rabbi Avi Harari

As the people of Am
Yisrael
prepared for the fateful night of the fourteenth of Nisan, God
instructed:

And you shall take a
bundle of hyssop and you shall dip it in the blood that is in the basin and you
shall touch the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two
doorposts
… (Shemot 12:22)

The great medieval commentator R. Avraham Ibn Ezra
noticed the similarity between this command and the purifying process of the messora (leper), which God would later
instruct:

The Cohen shall charge
that there be taken for him who is cleansing himself two live pure birds and
cedar wood and crimson stuff and hyssop…And dip them and the living bird in the
blood of the slaughtered bird over fresh water.
(VaYikra 14:4)

Can We Ever Leave Egypt?

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Dr. Erica Brown

Many years ago, I tucked into a kosher take-out place and asked the man behind the counter what he could make me in two minutes since I didn’t want to miss my train home from New York. He told me he had something ready and sent me quickly on my way. A block and a half later, I realized I had left my briefcase with my computer in the restaurant. Oy. Now I was definitely going to miss the train. I called the number on the take-out bag, checked that it was there and ran back. The nice man handed me my case, looked at me and said, “Repeat after me: “Gam zo le-tova.” This, too, will be for the good. I repeated the mantra, left the restaurant and took off. I made the train. …

Building from the Inside Out

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Vivien Hidary

This past Shabbat we read Parashat HaHodesh where the upcoming month of Nisan is officially designated as the first month of the year. A New Year in the spring is quite novel, considering we already had one in the fall, in Tishrei. On Rosh HaShana we celebrated the creation of the world. A closer look at the verses might shed some light on the purpose of yet another beginning, and on why G-d allowed for the month of His creation to take a back seat to the month of our Exodus. …

Question!

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Aimee Bailey

The Seder night is about questions, everything we do is meant to evoke curiosity
and question the norm. As HaRambam writes:

וְצָרִיךְ
לַעֲשׂוֹת שִׁנּוּי בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּרְאוּ הַבָּנִים וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ
וְיֹאמְרוּ מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת עַד
שֶׁיָּשִׁיב לָהֶם וְיֹאמַר לָהֶם כָּךְ וְכָךְ אֵרַע וְכָךְ וְכָךְ הָיָה.
וְכֵיצַד מְשַׁנֶּה. מְחַלֵּק לָהֶם קְלָיוֹת וֶאֱגוֹזִים וְעוֹקְרִים הַשֻּׁלְחָן
מִלִּפְנֵיהֶם קֹדֶם שֶׁיֹּאכְלוּ וְחוֹטְפִין מַצָּה זֶה מִיַּד זֶה וְכַיּוֹצֵא
בִּדְבָרִים הָאֵלּוּ

A Seder We Were Hoping For

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Jack Dweck

This year, my wife and I decided that we really wanted to have a small Seder – just us and the kids (not under these circumstances, of course).  We never had the opportunity to truly be one on one with our children on Passover, to share with them the beauty of this special evening. After long and crowded seders in the past I used to leave and walk home believing I could deliver a better experience to my children with just our family, at least 1 of the 2 nights.  I’d end seder nights wondering what my children even got out of the night amidst all of the different personalities and hustle and wondering if I even spent any time with them. …

Real Connection

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Mali Adler Brofsky

Just a little chizuk. Every other year we have a super large extended family Seder (the other years is also extended family but somewhat smaller).

The years the Seder is huge, I have gotten in the habit of sitting around with my kids on erev pesach and just reading through the Hagadda together, (because I wanted to make sure they would not get lost in the mega Seder at night). …

Connecting with the One

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Leah Hartman

Following the teachings I’ve been hearing from Rabbi Weinberger, of Kehillat EIsh Kodesh.. We can see this as a time of isolation, or we can see this as a time to connect- each one of us – to the One. The Gemara tells us that if we are alone on Leil HaSeder we should tell the story to ourselves. I heard R. Dov say that when he’ was teaching and he’d notice all his students were asleep or not paying attention, he’d turn his teaching into prayer, so he’d know that at least someOne was listening. …

Chant Loudly Together

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Esther Tokayer

I remember being in a college classroom with Yaffa Eliach a”H. The course was Films of the Holocaust. She showed us a film, Forbidden, about a German woman living in Berlin who saved Jewish people and helped get them out of Germany. She hides a Jewish man in her apartment. It is difficult for him but he manages until she brings in another Jewish man for a few days. Together the two men chant Shema Yisrael loudly and clearly so it could be heard in the streets of Berlin. The woman ousts the newcomer, but it is clear that the Jew had no regrets. Perhaps this year, if we are alone or in small numbers in our homes – we can have our seders by open windows and we can chant loudly together.. maybe that will give us the strength to be able to be there for each other and to pull through this difficult time. …

Anxious or Depressed?

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Michelle Friedman, MD

COVID-19 and the Challenge of Spending Pesach Alone

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many of our lives and required us to distance ourselves from family and friends. This comes right upon Pesach, a time when typically we gather with friends and family to celebrate freedom, eat, discuss and give thanks right in our own homes. Maybe you were planning to travel or to get together locally with folks dear to you. Almost all of these plans are cabashed this year. And for people who will be on their own, this is an especially daunting situation, as we are in a year when Pesach is a 3 day yom tov. …

Connecting to an Ongoing Tradition

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Levi Morrow

Ma’aseh Be’Rabbi Eliezer, Ve’Rabbi Yehoshua, Ve’Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Ve’Rabbi Akiva Ve’Rabbi Tarfon Shehayu Mesubin Be’Bnai BerakThis section shifts the register of the Haggadah, from a retelling of the exodus from Egypt to a retelling of retellings of the exodus from Egypt. We don’t just recall God’s miracles as Bnei Yisrael were taken out of Egypt, we also recall how Jews have told the story of these miracles throughout history. …

A Lonely Seder That Changed My Life Forever

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Jordan David Soffer

I know this is long, but hopefully it is worth it. This is the story of my loneliest seder and how it changed my life forever.
—–
We were somewhere between Mauritius and South Africa, likely hugging Madagascar’s coastline. Half of the journey had already passed, but half was yet unrealized. Mexico, Hawaii and South East Asia quickly became distant memories. Africa, South America and a return home were around the corner. …

The Silver Lining to a Lonely Seder

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Jessie Fischbein

The Rambam in the Laws of Chometz and Matza (chapter 7) discusses how to tell the story on the night of the Seder:

ד  [ג] וצריך לעשות שינוי בלילה הזה–כדי שיראו הבנים וישאלו ויאמרו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות, עד שישיב להם ויאמר להם, כך וכך אירע וכך וכך היה.

ה  וכיצד משנה–מחלק להם קליות ואגוזים, ועוקרים השולחן מלפניהם קודם שיאכלו, וחוטפין מצה זה מיד זה, וכיוצא בדברים האלו.  אין לו בן, אשתו שואלתו; אין לו אישה–שואלין זה את זה מה נשתנה הלילה הזה, ואפילו היו כולן חכמים.  היה לבדו, שואל לעצמו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה.


Back to Basics

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Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Seder is a grand elaboration of what is essentially a very personal, individuated mitzvah: “You shall recount to your child on that day, saying, ‘This is because of what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt'” (Shemot 13:8). The essence of Pesach night is about parents narrative to their children the story of how we became and remain who we are. This year, we have a unique opportunity to return to the basics, to focus, with minimal distraction, on telling the story to our children.

Rabbi Elli Fischer …

Grandpareting this Pesah

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by: Rabbi Yosef Bitton

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Not a single person on this planet knows what will be happening in the coming days or weeks. But most probably we will be forced to celebrate Pesah in extraordinary circumstances.  Mainly because for many families, this will be a Seder without the grandparents, and for many grandparents, a Seder without the joy of their grandchildren. … 

Caring for the Vulnerable

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Jeffrey Dweck

One of my personal thoughts has been about Passover always being a time to invite the needy to participate, something we physically cannot do this year.  Indeed, Rabbi J. Soloveitchik spoke of Judaism’s elevating of meals to a forum for hesed, something we won’t be able to demonstrate. That said, we keep hearing in the news about social distancing and about how the reason we’re doing so is not for ourselves, but for the most vulnerable in our community; a demographic unmistakably favored by Judaism. Our “ small Seder” this year reflects that sacrifice and that small kindness to our city’s most vulnerable.  That’s something I’ll be thinking about.