In the middle of finding a way for us all - here, throughout the country and the world - to be together in our isolation, our community faced the special challenge to celebrate the quintessential family/group holyday, Pesah, in these unique circumstances.
Just over a week ago, we were getting ready for the Primeros of Pesah, and, especially the Seder/Hagada- for us to celebrate, remember and relive the Exodus from Egypt, ending slavery and embarking on the journey to freedom. Our natural response to celebrate happiness or threats or sadness is to come together for thanks, prayer and support. Pesah is especially the time for families and friends and guests- all backgrounds, all ages- to come together and create an environment to relive the essence of freedom and beyond. This year required an extraordinary adjustment- we were required to have the Seder in isolation (for some, even a solitary celebration). There were many responses to this requirement- many people led the service for the first time, people shared long distance- even electronically- and made it work. In addition, on the second night, we started “the count up,” the omer, counting the days from the exodus to the revelation of G-d to Moshe and the Jewish people at Sinai.
The Medianos - “the middle days” - found us still celebrating Pesah, in a less intense way. We made it through this time as well, resolving to be together virtually and in spirit, to continue to navigate a successful pathway to personal and communal health and wellbeing.
Then came the Segundos, the end of the holiday of our independence, a week after the Exodus, we may wonder, “what’s that about?” what are we celebrating? It may not be so well known that on the seventh day after the Exodus, we had reached the shores of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds), in front of us, and with the Egyptian army poised to attack us, in the rear. Our escape was provided through the miraculous splitting of the sea. As our Torah reading for this day recounts the joyful song of praise (called Az Yashir) that Moshe led the Jews to sing, with Miriam, his sister, leading the women, thanking G-d for the miraculous salvation at the Sea, and prospectively acknowledging our reliance on Him for the future.
We also have a custom to get up early and, before tefilla, read some special parts of the written and oral Torah. Many communities include praise through songs sung in the past to celebrate/give thanks (highlighted by the Az Yashir, plus nine others) at this reading. Our custom is to focus the entire reading on our confidence and trust in G-d for saving us in the future - an interesting shift of emphasis.
Going forward from slavery in Egypt starting with the Exodus, a group based mainly on familial connections, we had a phased, step-wise journey transforming to a nation of G-d entering the Promised Land that lasted 40 years. Each step of the way there was learning, absorbing our new challenges into our past experiences, leading to maturity, coherence and coalescing as a people.
With these thoughts in mind, after we have hopefully had a substantive, joyful Pesah may we see our way to a healthy and safe future, through this seclusion. We pray that our future will soon (in way fewer than 40 years) lead to safe, secure and healthy freedom to find our way to a track of meaningful freedom.
My father used to say, “if that’s the case LeHaim!” no matter the occasion or what was being said…
Inspired by that, I invite us all to join in a virtual LeHaim, at our Shabbat and Holiday table- being together in our thoughts and prayers, wishing an enthusiastic:
“LeHaim- Salud y Beraha, may we all be safe and be well!”