Approaching Passover in the Year of COVID

This year, I hope we will all mark the holiday in a meaningful way, even if that looks very different from Passovers past.

It's hard to believe that the month of March is over (whew!) and that we are less than a week out from Passover. This coming Shabbat -- the one before Pesach -- is a special one on the Jewish calendar, known as "Shabbat HaGadol" ("the great Shabbat"). The haftorah for Shabbat HaGadol comes from the prophet Malachi and centers around the theme of restoration. Its final lines promise that God will send Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) to renew the hearts of the people and repair intergenerational breaches.

What an important message to receive, just before we descend into the depths of Mitzrayim (literally, "constraints") and re-encounter the oppressive bitterness of our enslavement and the extreme suffering of the Egyptians under the plagues. This year -- as we brace for the COVID pandemic to reach its peak, knowing that we will wake up each morning to a higher death toll -- we have a new understanding of the terror our Israelite ancestors must have experienced on their final night in Egypt, as they were ordered to stay sheltered in their own homes (see Exodus 12:22), blood painted on their lintels, waiting for the Angel of Death to pass over.

This year, I hope we will all mark the holiday in a meaningful way, even if that looks very different from Passovers past.  We can each pause to open our doors to "welcome Elijah" during our seders, thus connecting up the texts of the haftorah and the haggadah. As we do, we embrace the idea that we can increase the love and kindness, justice and freedom in our world, thus heralding in a time of redemption.

However, earlier in the seder when we recite the line "Let all who are hungry come and eat," we know that we cannot literally invite in the hungry (or anyone, for that matter... after all, most of us are barely venturing out from day to day). In order to fulfill this important call, we must embrace another custom this year: the charitable pre-Pesach giving known as ma-ot hittim. (This custom originally came into being in ancient times to ensure that the needy would have grain for matzah.)

Over the past couple of weeks, we (the Kavana staff) have been in touch with many of you to check in about how our community is faring during the challenging times of the global pandemic we are living through. What we are hearing, over and over again, from members of the Kavana community is that while the day-to-day is hard for many of us on lots of levels, most in our community are healthy and feel grateful to have all that we do: roofs over our heads, food in our pantries, access to medical care should we need it, relationships with loving (non-abusive) family members, etc. (Of course, if any of this is not true for you or if you are concerned for your safety and/or well-being, either now or looking ahead, please do let us know, as we genuinely want to help!)

In general, we in the Kavana community know that we are relatively fortunate, and we recognize that there are plenty of others, here in Seattle and around the world, who are more vulnerable than we are in this moment. The mitzvah of ma-ot hittin calls on us -- as part of our preparation for our festival of liberation -- to share what we have with others. Non-profit organizations are struggling right now, as are the clients they serve, and really, you can take your pick... think about your favorite food banks or soup kitchens, homeless service agencies, organizations that support survivors of domestic violence, low-cost medical clinics, global relief orgs, etc. Any amount you give will make a difference and is sure to be appreciated to those doing important work and feeling the strain of these times... and without a doubt, fulfilling this mitzvah of giving and sharing will be a meaningful and empowering way to move into the Passover holiday!

In anticipation of the restoration and repair that our tradition teaches always lie just around the corner, and with prayers for healing in this season of new growth,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum