Community Rabbi Corner, March 26, 2021

Rabbi Laurence W. Groffman
Temple Sholom of West Essex
Cedar Grove, NJ 
Parashat Tzav/Pesach

The Fifth Question (or maybe the sixth, seventh, eighth question)

Ma Nishtana?
What is different between Pesach 5780 and Pesach 5781?
Last year, we were in full on lockdown.
This year, we can engage in activities, to a limited extent and with precautions, outside our homes.
Last year, there seemed to be little hope of knowing how long the pandemic would last.
This year, we are still in the midst of a serious pandemic; however, we sense glimmers of hope as more of us become vaccinated.
Last year, we had limited understanding of COVID-19.
This year, we have much more knowledge about the virus and how it works.
Last year, we had limited knowledge of how best to treat COVID-19.

This year, medical science has learned how to treat COVID more effectively and reduce the death and hospitalization rate.
Last year, we could not look forward to summer camp, as most summer camps were closed.
This year, many young people are starting to count the days to camp.
Ma Nishtana?
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between last Pesach and this, is that we can start to contemplate what meaning we will assign to our experience of living through a pandemic.
Just as our goal each year at the seder is not only to recount what occurred thousands of years ago to our ancestors but to infuse those events with meaning that transcends time, so too, our children, coming of age during a pandemic, will have a story to tell our grandchildren and great-grandchildren about what we have been experiencing for more than a year. This year, we have the unique opportunity to be their partners in figuring out what the lasting significance and impact of this experience will be for us now and for future generations.
Maybe the “fifth question” at this year’s seder is: “What are we learning from the pandemic that will resonate for all time?”
The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of communal responsibility: our individual actions impact others. Wearing masks and other safety protocols may inconvenience us, but they protect others. How do we exercise our responsibility to others?
COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the inequalities in our society, as minorities and those with low incomes are disproportionately affected by the pandemic—medically, educationally and economically. What are our responsibilities to address the imbalances in our world?
The coronavirus also reminds us that little things can have enormous impact. This infinitesimally small virus has had worldwide devastating consequences. What are the little things we do that can make a big, positive impact in the world?
As always, questions lead to more questions. We can use the seder as an opportunity to consider these questions and ask your own.
Above all, Pesach is a time for questions, discussion, storytelling—and hope. As we set out the cup for Elijah and open the door for him, I hope that one day we will look back on Pesach 5781 as the Pesach when we opened the door to a brighter future filled with health, blessing and goodness for us all.
Hag Pesach Sameach!