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Passover and Corona: A Message of Hope

March 19, 2020 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Passover is coming with a powerful message that speaks to us today.

We are plunged into a world we have never imagined. Many are gripped by fear, anxiety, and disbelief. The unknown is frightening. We must cope with worries – physical, financial, emotional. Parents are distressed for their children, and children distressed for their parents. How long can we go on like this?

Every time the phone pings with news updates, there is another dent in our mental armor. We are depleted. How can we find the strength and positivity to overcome our challenges?

Though we do not have prophets to speak to us, we do have Jewish wisdom to guide us.

In a world filled with chaos we yearn for security and stability. We are now preparing for Passover and anticipating Seder night. The definition of ‘Seder’ is ‘order’, exactly the safety net we crave. First, we must hear the message of our Seder. Know without a doubt that we are not alone in this world. Just as our people wondered in Egypt if they would ever get out of the awful darkness they were suffering, we too may wonder: Are we spiraling out of control? Will we ever see the light again?

God took us out of Egypt and we will get out of this darkness too.

Seder night comes to teach us perspective for life. There is marror (bitter herbs), it is true. Our forefathers had many moments of grief. There were times that they were anguished and felt as if they had lost their spirit. But they did not allow the marror moments to overcome them. They were not stripped of their faith. We dip the marror into charoset – a delicious mixture of apples, nuts, wine and honey – to teach us that even in the most difficult of times we must see the sweetness that imbues our life. The friendships, the love, the resilience, the kindness that surrounds us. God took us out of Egypt and we will get out of this darkness too.

At our Seder we make a sandwich of matzah and marror with a bit of charoset, for such is life. Sandwiched between the hardships are the flashes of joy. Grab onto them! Seize the moment.

With quarantines and social distancing, take this time to build a bridge. Call someone you’ve lost touch with. Think of others who are feeling isolated right now and hug them with your heart.

This one germ has spread throughout the world and created havoc. Imagine how one good word, one good deed could spread throughout the world and counter the devastation. Your light could spread from one person to another, and on and on. The antidote to destruction is creation. Create goodness. Be a blessing.

Rabbi Akiva's Optimism

It is easy to grow hopeless. We are not the first to feel this way.

Our Haggadah speaks of a famous Seder that took place in Bnei Brak. There were many great rabbis sitting together. One rabbi mentioned is Rabbi Akiva, who was actually the younger scholar hosting the elders. The rabbis spoke about the exodus until their students came in to say, “Rabbis, it is time to recite the morning Shema prayer!”

My dear readers, this Seder invite Rabbi Akiva into your hearts. He will give you strength. He will empower you with courage.

Rabbi Akiva lived in the darkest of times. The holy Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Romans had conquered the land. The spirit of the Jewish nation had been crushed; their soul trampled upon. Studying Torah and doing mitzvot were met with imprisonment, torture and death. Soon the long and bitter exile would begin. The Jews would be put into chains and sold in the Roman slave market. Who could think about joining a Seder in such darkness? Who could feel inspired and speak about the exodus in Egypt when despair was in the air?

This is exactly why the sages met in the home of Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva was the eternal optimist. He refused to surrender to depression. Where others saw the end of the road, he saw the beginning of the journey. His eye was always on the future. His heart was eternally filled with faith.

We meet Rabbi Akiva once again when he is walking with his peers up to Jerusalem When they reached Mount Scopus, they tore their garments from grief at the sight of devastation. As they reached the Temple Mount, a fox emerged from the place that had been the Holy of Holies. The rabbis started to weep. Rabbi Akiva laughed. “Why are you laughing?” they asked. He explained that while they see the destruction of the sacred, he sees the fulfillment of prophecy. Just as the first part of prophecy had been fulfilled, that the Temple would be destroyed, now we must look forward to the second part of the prophecy-the rebuilding of our Temple and return of our people.

We must gather now round the table of Rabbi Akiva. It takes courage to keep a positive spirit. The sages assembled by the spirit who would keep hope and faith alive. As long as we do not get stuck in the blackness of yesterday we can emerge into the brightness of tomorrow. Is it easy? No, it takes all you’ve got. But if you are able to spend the night recalling the exodus, reinforcing within the understanding that there is a God who watches over you, cares for you, and takes you out of your personal Egypt, you will make it. We must tap into the eternal optimism of Rabbi Akiva.

When the students came in to say it is time for the morning Shema they were transmitting a message to us, today: Don’t give up. Don’t fall into despair. The darkest part of the night comes just before dawn.

The morning Shema is a prayer of clear-cut faith. There are no hazy doubts. It is bright and unobscured. We proclaim our unwavering belief with one voice.

We will stand up again. We will feel joy again. We will rebuild.


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