A Passover table set with gentle reminders of the plagues which swept Egypt. (Anthony C. Hayes)
The irony hasn’t been lost on anyone that as the Jewish community prepares to celebrate Passover, the Festival of Freedom, we are confined to our homes. Our country — and the world — is in the midst of a pandemic. Physically, our activities and movements are restricted. Emotionally, many may feel enslaved to feelings of fear and anxiety.
It may not feel like an easy time to celebrate freedom. But then again, it often doesn’t.
Passover has been celebrated in the concentration camps with matzah baked in makeshift ovens from scraps of flour. It was celebrated in cellars by Spanish Jews who faced death if the Inquisition found them. It was celebrated under inhumane persecution time and again, because freedom is more than a state of being.
Freedom is a state of mind.
We may not always be able to control our physical circumstances, but we have the power to overcome them, to find the mindset of freedom regardless of where we find ourselves.
This year, as the Jewish community sits down to the Seder — the traditional Passover meal — the foods we eat and the prayers we say will have new significance. As we eat the matza — unleavened bread that reminds us of the haste in which our ancestors left Egypt — we will remember that matza is called the “food of healing” and we will pray for an end to illness everywhere. We will remember that it is also called “the food of faith” and we will strengthen our trust in G-d to guide us through this difficult time. And as we drink the four cups of wine that symbolize our freedom, we will reflect on the inherent freedom we will always possess.
As we shelter in our homes to save lives, we will recall another time when we were quarantined, instructed not to leave the house — during the very first Passover. As the Plague of the Firstborn smote their oppressors, G-d instructed the Jewish People to shelter in place. “You shall not go out, any man from the entrance of his house until morning.” (Exodus 12: 22.) And for those who stayed home, G-d promised “the Lord will pass over the entrance, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses to smite.” (Ibid. 12: 23.) Indeed, the name of the holiday — Passover — comes from this very verse.
We are all the children of G-d, and once again we are saving our own lives — and the lives of those who are most vulnerable — by staying indoors.
Just as each family gathered together in their homes for the Passover feast, may we see the opportunity in our current situation and use this time to improve our relationships with our loved ones.
This Passover, let us pray that we will be sheltered as they were, let us strengthen the bonds of family now more than ever, and let us find inspiration in our lifesaving acts.
Note: This year, Passover Begins at sunset of Wednesday, April 8 and ends at nightfall of Thursday, April 16. To learn more about the holiday go to Passover.org
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With houses of worship currently closed across much of the nation, the editors of the Baltimore Post-Examiner are inviting an array of spiritual teachers to share insights from the ages along with words of comfort and encouragement. These timely messages are not exclusive to any particular faith walk and will be included in our ongoing Spirituality series.
Rabbi Zalman Spitezki is the director of Chabad on Call – Greater Baltimore, which provides spiritual, social and emotional support to patients and their families at the city’s healthcare centers.
Zalman was ordained by the late chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu of blessed memory. He graduated in Jewish theology at the Rabbinical College of America.