“I need a Pesach article,” an editor said to me a few weeks before Pesach. “Do you have one you can send me?” Under normal circumstances I might just go to the archives and find something that hasn’t seen the light of day in a couple years, but after the events of this past year, I felt it wouldn’t do it justice.
I looked back at Pesach 5780 (that’s 2020 in case you weren’t sure) and thought about what it was like. Sequestered in our homes with only our closest family, feeling the chill of death swirling around outside our homes, focusing on Hashem and His protection, and unsure of what the next moment might bring, it seemed to evoke emotions they must have felt on the Pesach of Mitzrayim.
That would make this year analogous to the second Pesach. Not the Pesach Sheini in Iyar for those who couldn’t fulfill Pesach at the regular time, but the one the Jews celebrated the second year of the Exodus, on the anniversary of Yetzias Mitzrayim. The actual mitzvah of the Pesach was for the year in Egypt, and then again once we were in Eretz Yisrael. That second year we were in a sort of limbo state. We were not still slaves in Egypt, yet we had not come to The Promised Land and settled in Eretz Yisrael. It was a more transitory existence, living day by day, eating the mon Hashem gave us, traveling when He said to travel and stopping when He said to stop.
Last Pesach many of us were sure that Moshiach was going to reveal himself any moment. We felt the tumultuous events were a build-up to the climactic Redemption of Klal Yisrael. And then, we waited. Nothing happened. Infection rates came down, people ventured out while not going back to what they knew, and then infection rates went up, and people didn’t know what to do. We kept waiting for guidance from Hashem, the CDC, and the government, unsure of what was happening. And we’re still in that limbo.
In some areas people are braver or more reckless than others, many have found themselves on the “other side” of the virus due to having had it, or the vaccine, or both. But we’re not in the clear and we’re not seeing the freedom we’d expected so strongly last Pesach. So I started to think about that Pesach in the desert and hoped to find some message in it for us. We had a major “reset” last year, and now we’re on to the next stage. Do we simply go on looking for a place to celebrate Pesach at a hotel where it won’t be a problem to be in groups? Do we scale back our typical plans and have a cozier Pesach experience with our families? Or do we try to go back to a somewhat “normal” gathering with the people that we’re comfortable with?
Well, let’s imagine that first Pesach Anniversary. We were in the desert, eating mon. As far as I know, mon is not chometz, so that would make cleaning for Pesach much easier. Besides, even if you dropped some crumbs the night of the 14th, they’d be gone by the morning and you’d be in the clear! I imagine the Ananei HaKavod had some sort of spiritual Roomba effect which would vacuum out pockets and make the chometz search easier.
OK, maybe they had to make matza, so somewhere someone took an old schoolbus, turned it into a matza oven, and printed up labels that said, “86 Shekel/pound.” They hired a bunch of old Hungarian women to work in the schoolbus, and that part was taken care of.
Figure this all took like two days. But what was the point of this Pesach? They were not slaves, nor were they B’nai Chorin. But it was important for them to tell the story to their children, from those who had seen the actual Pesach in Mitzrayim and could now relate to their children the difference between where they had been and where they were now. They were able to take stock of what had been important in their lives the year or years previous, and compare it to what was important now.
Then they were concerned with making bricks, earning their keep and their physical wellbeing. The following year, they were living their lives one day at a time as Hashem directed them, studying Torah and growing closer to Hashem.
In fact, the commandment to offer the Pesach in the desert came just before the Mishkan was erected and Hashem’s Shechina would rest upon it. This command was intended to let them know that even though they’d sinned with the golden calf, Hashem wanted our closeness, even if He wasn’t ready to take us into Eretz Yisrael.
I feel that maybe that’s what this coming Pesach should be about. Recognizing that we’re on a journey to where we need to be, but the place where we were focused on the physical and the materialistic was so last year. Hopefully, by the time this is published, we WILL be in Eretz Yisrael with the Bais HaMikdash and actual korbanos. But if not, I’d like to think that at least we’ve started journeying in the right direction.
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