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Balka: Reflections on a different Passover

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My first thought before any other is to express the hope that you are all well, and that you and the entire world will get through this crisis of existence.

On Passover, coming up soon, the marquee event is the Passover Seder. It is a time when families get together to contemplate the travails of the Israelites in Egypt, and how they were fortunately redeemed.

It is a re-living of our history, accentuated by having foods that reflect on that history. This includes the bitter herbs, to recall the bitter times, and the unleavened bread, called matzah, which simultaneously recalls both the affliction and the redemption.

It is an interesting combination of the physical and the spiritual, the eating and the talking. Passover is about recalling our past, reflecting on the present, and preparing for the future.

It is about appreciation and gratitude; appreciation of our ancestors who endured excruciating servitude, even murder, and gratitude to God for our deliverance.

At a very early juncture in the seder, the youngest person in attendance, usually but not always a child, leads off with an exclamation-question – How different is this night from all other nights!? The “child” then proceeds to describe the differences – Matzah instead of bread, bitter herbs prioritized over other vegetables, dipping foods in mixtures before eating, and reclining rather than normal sitting.

These observations are precipitated by the unusual way that the evening begins, different from other holy days of the year, and the presence on the table of so many unique items, such as the bitter herbs, the matzah, salt water, etc.

This year, our collective exclamation is – How different is this night from the other Passover nights that were themselves inherently different. This year is a different different.

This year Passover will be different because our thoughts will be with the thousands upon thousands who are mourning the tragic loss of loved ones to the COVID 19 plague.

This year Passover will be different because we will be praying for the recovery of all ill persons, including the thousands who are battling this cruel virus.

This year Passover will be different because grandparents and grandchildren will not be together.

This year Passover will be different because parents and children will not be together.

This year Passover will be different because many will observe Passover being totally alone, asking the questions to themselves. And then providing answers to themselves – not easy at all.

This year Passover will be different because inevitably, the focus will be on the crisis of today rather than the crisis of yesteryear.

Yes, Passover will be different, but it will still be Passover. Less people, less to eat, less to enjoy, less to celebrate. But Passover nonetheless.

It will remain a Passover of gratitude, gratitude that however different, we will still be able to observe Passover. And like all Passovers previous, it will be filled with hope, intense hope that next year’s Passover will be different from this year’s Passover, and more like Passovers previous.

It is to be expected that many, at the Passover Seder, will lament what is missing. But it is likewise my fervent hope that we will focus on the many positives in our lives.

For example, we may lament the separation, but at the same time we can be grateful that we have loved ones who we yearn to join with us.

Our hopes and yearning will be that this crisis will Pass Over, that we will all escape the tentacles of this dreaded virus, to a better day in which the interconnectedness that came so strongly to the fore during the pandemic will remain, and become even stronger as we face a future that, whatever it entails, will be different.


Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and President/CEO of Kind Canada Gener 0’.0//-/eux. The author is grateful to Convivium/Cardus for permission to share this.