Parashat Tzav (Shabbat Hagadol), 2020

We are only a few days away from Passover, the festival of freedom.

Just as Rosh Hashanah has the individual as its epicenter and the synagogue as the space where that individual introspection and search for meaning takes place, Pesach has its epicenter around a table, looking at the faces of the people one loves, and following the rituals that transcend the individual dimension, towards a family dimension, broader and more collective. Without this ingredient, much of the mystique of the holiday disappears.

In this new approach, as we adapt to our current circumstances, the other appears, not as an abstract philosophical entity, but with a name, a face, and even a memory, all of them full of love.

Ma Nishtanah Halaila Hazeh? How is this Passover night different from other Passover nights?

Most families will not be together around that table of aromas, flavors and the sacred closeness of Mishpacha. We will try to tell the story, as we have been doing for centuries and centuries, we will eat the symbolic foods of the Ke´arah, we will have the four glasses of wine, we will sing the songs. But this Passover, something is going to be missing.

“B´nai Chorin” means free, but literally means: children of holes. And maybe it is so. Perhaps freedom implies recognizing our existential holes and voids, our deepest longings that we hide like the Afikoman, but that we must find and recognize, to feel freer.

What are those gaps? Do we need to fill them at all costs and with any content? Can we re-invent ourselves, not only to re-create a virtual Seder, but also to accept the challenge posed by our condition as free beings, to re-create our lives again and again in the face of losses and gaps that we do not control nor do we choose? Can our will and faith lead us on a path of resilience and reconstruction?

Certainties and ready-made answers are a trap. Freedom confronts us before mystery and uncertainty. One cannot be free without noticing the fear and vertigo caused by walking through a desert without pre-established paths, in which automatic responses no longer serve us.

To be free, as in the Seder, more than providing answers, we ask questions. More than the certainties that come from either the realm of science or from our illusion of omnipotence, we have doubts, that come from the realm of Mystery and we try to confront with faith.

This world crisis also resizes the wonderful declaration of “Ha Lachma Anyah”: Anyone who wants or needs, come and eat of our bread of affliction. It is not about not doing to others what you do not want them to do to you, as Hillel said, establishing the foundations of Jewish Ethics. It is to go one step further, from Ethics to Mercy, saying as the Talmud says: “O Chavruta, o Mituta” = “Or Solidarity, or Death”. Another lesson from the current plague of Coronavirus.

In each generation, and ours is not an exception, we have to try to get out of the narrowness of our Mitzrayim; and say Dayeinu and be thankful for what we have; and understand that in the diversity of the four children is the understanding that there is no single formula that works for everyone, and accept ourselves as we are, with our lights and our shadows; and to think that the cat ate the goat, and the dog bit the cat, and the stick hit the dog, in a chain of cause and effect that indicates that everything we do has its consequences. Nothing we do is indifferent to the World.

We are free, we have free will, which implies the risk of making mistakes, the courage to repent, and the strength to re-create ourselves. If God has a plan by which we are living this reality, as I heard this week, I don’t know. I find it hard to believe that the price is so many thousands of deaths and millions of human beings suffering. What I do believe is that being free implies taking responsibility for our actions, what we do, and what we don’t do, by action or omission.

May we all be healthy, may those who are ill recover soon, and may those who suffered losses find comfort and strength to move on. May we reconnect with our affections, our memories and our roots. May we try to re-create ourselves towards a life of freedom and meaning.