During Passover, Jewish families observe a tradition, where we retell the story of Exodus from Egypt as if we were there. This year, I offer that it is not very difficult to feel some of the same feelings as our ancestors. Unfortunately, we can access that empathy for some very terrible reasons, but also for some very encouraging ones.
We see the ritual of washing hands in the Seder. Pretty important now, I’d say. And, Pharoah was brought 10 plagues to convince him to let the Jewish people flee. I don’t think I need to draw a line to that parallel.
The Jewish people were oppressed by Pharaoh, denied their freedom and fearing for their lives. This year, we are all being oppressed by this damn virus! All joking aside, we have had much of our freedom taken away; we are stuck at home, scared, perhaps lonely. We’ve had to change the way we move and connect with our families and communities. Consider, for example, how many virtual Seders took place across the world this year. We never dreamed that our poor Bubbies and Zaidis would have to learn how to get into our Zoom chats.
Right now, even while stuck at home, all of us feel like we’re wandering a bit. We’ve all been challenged a bit more. For some of us, that challenge means a job that takes us to the frontline of our nation’s healthcare, and putting ourselves at risk to keep others well. Others have been challenged by having their jobs taken away, having to deal with the financial and emotional repercussions.
But reflecting back to Exodus, we are reminded that there was an end to their wandering and suffering, as after 40 years the Jewish people were able to enter the land of Israel.
And, we must take great hope knowing that there also will be an end to this.
We know that many will suffer. But perhaps a land of milk and honey awaits us on the other side of this virus. Thus, history teaches us that Exodus was not just a hardship, but also a gateway.
I recently read a wonderful quote by Arundhati Roy.:
“Throughout history, Pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Can we check our baggage through to our final destination filled with love, compassion, and empathy? Can this Passover and our mandatory time at home close to loved ones help us to fill our luggage, picking out the things in our lives that serve us, and leaving others behind?
Can we get to the other side of this more grateful? More joyful? More human?
So yes, it’s okay to feel the stress and gravity of this crisis. Because just as the Jewish people were most likely scared shitless as they wandered through the desert, we are also scared shitless. But, we should remain grounded in the knowledge that we have been here before. Reminded that this is simply a gateway, not a curse.
And therefore we should be hopeful, very hopeful.