Yesterday, Jewish homes across the country have begun observing Passover, which started last night with a Seder. Traditionally, the Passover Seder (which is Hebrew for the word “order”), includes readings from the Haggadah, paired with symbolic drinking of wine (or grape juice), eating of specific foods (i.e., matzah, horseradish, and bitter herbs), and singing songs that help pass on the tradition of the Passover story. Depending on who invites you, Seders can vary in length, formality, and what parts of the Haggadah they include or are cut for time.
One of the key touchstones in any Passover Seder, The Four Questions ask and answer why the Seder is special, and not just like any other night.
Translated into English, they look a little something like this:
How is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights, we eat chametz (leavened bread) and matzah. Why on this night, only matzah?
On all other nights, we eat all vegetables. Why, on this night, maror (bitter herbs)?
On all other nights, we don’t dip even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?
On all other nights, we eat either sitting upright or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?
This year, as Jewish families all across the world are spending their Seders apart, to prevent the spread of a dreaded eleventh plague, we’ve updated The Four Questions to fit our strange, but special, circumstances.
(Why is this Seder different from all other Seders?)
We are making this sacrifice not just to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe, but to protect our communities. From front-line workers who are saving lives to those who live on our streets and in our neighborhoods—delivering us packages, selling us food and medicine, our sacrifice will matter to hundreds or thousands of people.
We should view our actions as the model for which the entire world will recover from this pandemic.
We must do more than simply survive this crisis; we must take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally. There are few, if any silver linings, but the time and ability to practice self-care is likely the only benefit from our staying at home.
So, what should we do? Get outside and enjoy nice weather minimally and in a safe way. Exercise, and get creative with it. Pick up an old hobby, or start a new one, and use entertainment as an outlet, not a source of frustration. Consult your local Torah for popular Netflix recommendations.
We need to protect ourselves, first and foremost, but also to protect others. There is a theme—that a person is responsible for harm to others caused by their negligence—expressed in Deuteronomy:
“When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, lest someone fall from there.”
Hand-washing, social distancing, making smart choices—everything we’re doing is ensuring that guardrails are in place to protect our communities.
Because this is a sacrifice, and it should be treated and remembered as such. It is not the same sacrifice our ancestors took in ancient Egypt—in establishing a homeland, in surviving the Holocaust—but this is a trying time, and remembering trials and challenges is the essence of the Passover story. So, remember what we are doing now, what we do over the next 8 days, and share those stories next year, 10 years from now, and for future generations. They may not believe it, but then again, the Red Sea parted in two, right?