Passing over coronavirus this Passover

This pandemic will pass over us, it will end. We do not know how, but we know that we have been tested before and we have come through.

 The Israel Defense Forces wishes you happy Passover from around the world (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Defense Forces wishes you happy Passover from around the world
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Passover is a unique holiday, with its message of liberation from slavery and the requirement that the Haggadah be recited to relive the experience of the Exodus in our own time. The commandment that the story be passed from generation to generation illustrates the importance of not merely reading about the historic redemption but also recognizing the adversity that those who witnessed it faced.
The themes of Passover relate to our own time. We remember that many generations throughout history have endured tyranny and that they have come through it. The plagues that befell Egypt may seem distant – bleeding idols or the earth turning to locusts; masses of frogs or hail and fire raining down on earth.
All of these plagues came about after hundreds of years of servitude in which the Haggadah says the Jewish people suffered terrible burdens and tortures. The story of slavery and suffering in Egypt worsened over time, reaching an apex just prior to the Exodus.
Our current servitude is not to a Pharaoh but is caused by an invisible enemy – a virus – forcing us to live in lockdown for almost a month. For many, this Passover will be different than most in living memory.
For many people, this is a time of loneliness and suffering. Over a million Israelis have lost their jobs and the situation does not look like it will get better soon. People are waiting for food deliveries and some are even at risk of domestic abuse. It is a time of uncertainty when we do not know if and when the lockdown or the fear of the virus will end.
This perplexing uncertainty would have confronted those leaving Egypt; the uncertainty of surviving the plagues only to be plunged into a long march for 40 years through an endless desert. The miracles of Passover provide a recipe for surviving the current pandemic. They teach us patience and resilience. They teach us to trust that the situation will get better. They also help us remember previous generations who suffered through other dark times.
Passover was celebrated by Jews sentenced to years of service in the czar’s army. It was celebrated by Jews serving in the armies fighting the Nazis – far from home – not knowing if they would win against Hitler’s war machine. It was celebrated by Jews in ghettos throughout Europe not knowing that soon they would be sent to Nazi death camps.
Jewish soldiers parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe, carried with them a Passover Haggadah. Yoel Palgi was among those who attended a Seder in Italy. The next day he  was parachuted into Yugoslavia to join the partisans. Captured in Hungary, he was put on a train for deportation to the camps. He leapt from the train and escaped.
Similarly, Jews in hiding from the Nazis observed Passover. One family survived the war near Borislav in Poland hiding with a Polish family. They illustrated a Haggadah, reciting the text from memory during their years in hiding. One of the family members later made his way to Israel where he fought in the War of Independence. Such was his dedication to Passover that he illustrated a second Haggadah, later donated to Yad Vashem.
Throughout the generations we have found ourselves surviving our own personal exodus amidst Passover. Why is this night different from all other nights, we ask. This Passover we will ask this question again. Like the long night of suffering in Egypt we will overcome this long metaphorical night of lockdowns and pandemic.
When we say “next year in Jerusalem,” it will have special meaning this year when the normal ability to travel to Jerusalem and the Western Wall has been halted. Passover provides us time to reflect on how tradition has messages that can inform us and steel us against the very real threats and suffering in our own time, connecting us through the generations back to those in Egypt.
This pandemic will pass over us, it will end. We do not know how, but we know that we have been tested before and we have come through.