When the situation changes from moment to moment, it’s hard to keep your balance. Passover brings yet another layer of challenge as we negotiate derailed travel plans, long-standing family obligations and even the simple act of buying a box of matzah. But it also gives us a chance to take a step back and reflect on our uncertainty through the lens of uncertainties that came before us.
Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?
My first instinct is what isn’t different about this Passover. The disruption to our daily lives carries through every aspect of Passover this year—coupled with the weariness born of weeks of uncertainty with no end in sight. Now more than ever, though, the anchor of the past can keep us tethered to this world. We won’t be the first to do that. Think of some of the other Passovers celebrated under challenging conditions—during the Holocaust, Civil War and under harsh rule in the former Soviet Union. This is hard, but we’ve got this.
How can we possibly make time for meaning in the midst of a crisis?
Because we have to. Holding on to a sense of being part of something larger, learning from the challenges that confront us and weaving together past, present and future are essential to our spiritual survival. I want to suggest that Shabbat was made for times like these (and for other good reasons too). Sitting in your living room/kitchen/study/bedroom/closet in front of your computer easily leads to every day feeling just like the other. It’s tedious and it’s tiring. We need to make an effort to break up the time in order to give it greater coherence and to ensure that we don’t forget to breathe. Take a look at Tiffany Shlain’s “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week.” What might your Shabbat look like?
OK, we made the time. Now what?
Now what? Now (almost) anything. Feel the sunshine on your face. Breathe deeply, away from any risks. Reconnect with a friend from years past. Do a photo essay of your neighborhood. Journal about your vulnerability, your hopes, your successes. Wash your hands slowly and put on lots of moisturizer. Pray, in your own words or in someone else’s. Put in your earbuds and blast the last movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9.” Read a book to someone else’s child. Bake bread. Now is the time to engage in things that nurture your core. Because when the crisis is over, you need to be whole and strong and ready to re-emerge into the world.
Over? Will this ever be over?
Sure, Gov. Baker announced that Massachusetts schools won’t reopen before May 4, and Virginia has already canceled school for the rest of the year. But even if we can’t pass over this, we will pass through it. Jewish journeys have often been conducted in shadow. Messianism, Zionism and Hasidism all arose as a beacon of light in a time of crisis. We don’t feel it yet, but times of anxiety are also times of creativity, intended and unintended. What new ways of creating connections will we have learned? Will this be the turning point in which we harness the powers of the internet, rather than allowing it to drag us to places we never meant to go?
So, even this fourth question ends with more questions. Because questions are open-ended, they propel us forward in a way answers seldom do. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We are closer to God when asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” Not having the answers is an uncomfortable place to be, but we can sit with that discomfort for a bit. When we get up to leave, the journey will have changed. And so will we.
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