We are living in challenging times. This is the first time in my entire married life that my wife and I will be having our Seder just by ourselves. In fact, it is the first time that my Seder will not be comprised of at least ten people including children, grandchildren and guests.
This coronavirus has changed our entire approach to the practice of Yiddishkeit. One obvious example: there are no minyanim. Here in Israel people are being issued summonses if they are just roaming the streets and are not engaged in buying food or the purchase of necessities. People are sick; some are dying. The times are sad and demanding. But there is a ray of hope.
While studying Talmud, I suddenly came across a story that gave me tremendous chizuk for the trying times in which we are living. The Talmud in Ta’anit states that there was both a famine and a plague in the land; the people didn’t know how to beseech G-d in prayer. They were taught that a congregation can only pray for relief from one disaster. Which one should they pray for G-d to stop: the plague or the famine?
They came to the great sage Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmeni and asked him for direction. He responded: Pray that the famine will stop. For if G-d will hearken to your prayers and there will be plenty of food in the world, then the plague will ipso facto disappear as well; for if G-d grants great sustenance in the world, surely he would want to have people around to enjoy it. As a result the plague will also stop.
As I studied this section in the Talmud, it occurred to me that this year in Israel has been very strange. In December, there was no rain. We began to insert in our prayers a supplication to G-d beseeching him that he should bring rain and the rain started pouring down. Looking back, this winter in Israel has been perhaps the rainiest in many years. The Kinneret is filled to capacity and they are contemplating opening the dam at Degania for the waters to flow into the Jordon River to avoid flooding. There are flowers everywhere. Everything is green. The land of Israel has never looked this beautiful.
Yet with all this beauty, we find ourselves confined to our homes. No one can enjoy the land. How can this be? Such a scenario is not possible! If G-d made the land so beautiful, surely He would want people to enjoy it as well. My conclusion: this virus will disappear quickly, although it seems not quick enough.
The reality, at least for the moment, is that our Sedarim will be limited in attendance this year until the virus passes. Grandparents will not be with grandchildren. Friends will not gather together. People will have a Seder of one.
On the other hand, because of this situation that we are forced to be in, we are able to perform one mitzvah this Pesach that was not part of our Sedarim previously. This year as we conduct our Sedarim, we will consciously be observing the mitzvah of V’nishmartem me’od lenafshosechem. We are commanded to guard our lives; to be careful and stay healthy. This is the only mitzvah in the Torah that we are charged to perform me’od – very much. It is not sufficient to simply perform this mitzvah. We are given the charge to be extra vigilant in making sure that we are healthy; that during these difficult times we do the right thing and guard ourselves, stay in our homes even if it means having a Seder alone. This year, we are given the opportunity to fulfill that mitzvah, to guard our lives me’od. We should be joyous and thank G-d that we are well and we have this opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah with gratitude and joy that we may be blessed to come to together to celebrate with our families and friends for many years to come.
Have a wonderful Pesach and be safe.