What are your plans for the evening of May 7? It appears as if they may not be much different than how you are handling each day during this period of societal shutdown. However, that date, or what it represents, may serve to shine some light on bringing meaning to Passover in this once in a lifetime condition in which we are unable to come together and observe this holiday properly.
In considering how to have a community Seder when we are all in isolation, the problem is that in some ways, this year, we are not able to “share” the Mitzrayim, i.e. confinement as a whole, given how we each are in our own unique conditions of “house arrest”, as it was described for me by family I spoke with last week in Maryland, even as I cautioned them that their own confinement would likely be coming in days (which it did!). Typically, when we gather at CBI for the second night Seder, we can find common conditions connecting our lives to our story of Passover, as we recount it in our Family Haggadah we have used now for a number of years. This year is different when we cannot come together with anyone other than whomever we are hunkering down with in our varying kinds of isolation. The challenge as I considered it was how confinement in one home environment can be likened to such confinement for you and for each individual or household attempting to connect. We are each in uniquely different circumstances depending on whether alone, or with others at home…whether we have more or less mobility in our particular confinements, and how stress levels and issues are different in terms of resources and capacities to cope.
The question of why this night is different from all others is transformed to one we have never had to ask: why is this Passover different for us all from any Passover our people has observed in its history?
While the first night Passover Seder presents the challenge of connecting households technologically in an attempt to observe the holiday as best they can, the issue of celebrating the second night Seder, especially as a broad community Seder, comes into “question” in two respects: first, what point is there to a community Seder when community has been physically shut down? Second, what about that magic word “second” as applied to this “community Seder” given that the Torah itself weighs in, when it comes to “seconds” in a way we have virtually (pun intended) ignored, with good reason, since it was never necessary to notice other than a curiosity in the Torah’s fourth book, B’midbar/Numbers, chapter 9, verses 10 and 11. The text reads: “God spoke to Moses saying…If any one of you or your generations are made spiritually unclean due to a death or being isolated from community (literally, “caught on a journey far away”), you shall observe the Passover a month later, i.e. “in the second month (Iyar, the month after Nisan), on the 14th day of that month; you shall eat the meal with matzah and bitter herbs”
What is fascinating is that the Torah makes no such stipulation for any other holiday or observance in our calendar. The fact that it does assertively make this point indicates that should a day come that it is impossible to observe our festival of freedom, it is too important to abandon to the times and conditions; when it becomes possible to keep the Passover, do it even if it is one month later.
This makes me wonder whether the Maccabees knew this teaching about Passover and accordingly acted creatively in turning to Torah teaching about Passover and applied it to Sukkot. During that holiday of rejoicing over the harvest, they were fighting for the lives of our people against the Greeks; yet in celebrating their unlikely conquest of the mightier enemy, they borrowed from the Passover teaching and applied it, not one but two months (almost two and a half months) later, in observing a belated Sukkot, when indeed there was much to rejoice over, in their delayed Sukkot, that became Chanukah. So, borrowing from the Maccabees, it occurs to me that even if we are still captive in our homes on May 7, whenever we do finally emerge from the darkness of this tragic Virus will be the time to finally celebrate this delayed Passover holiday, as mandated in the Torah and identified as “Pesach Sheni” the “Second Passover”, to be enacted in times of emergency.
While I cannot see the effectiveness of attempting to do a community wide second night Seder this coming Thursday, with all of us in our unique isolation, it makes a lot of sense and suggests a feeling of comfort that there is a second Seder awaiting us, whenever it becomes safe once again to come out into our world. Whenever that day should come to pass, whether as soon as May 7, highly unlikely, or as late as the fall, if not later, I want to invite the CBI community to come together to celebrate Pesach Sheni, in appreciation of this gift for affirming continuity, even when overwhelmed with such darkness that keeps us from being together in sharing matzah and hugs during Passover at its regularly scheduled time.
Meanwhile, we will have opportunities via Zoom technology to keep connected with the holiday in its time through the prayers and rituals of Passover, a first day Passover service this Thursday, at 10 AM, and Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat Passover services at 7 PM and 10 AM respectively, and finishing Pesach Rishon (the first Passover), on Thursday, April 16 at 10 AM, including Yizkor.
As for the second night of Passover, this Thursday, that would be a good opportunity for each household to use memories of previous community Seders to serve retroactively as “training” for heads of households to lead their Seders and address the unique Mitzrayim/confinement/constriction Egypt that you are dealing with in your particular living conditions.
For now, we will hold to our teaching, Gam Ze Ya-avor/ This too shall pass, and look forward to better times, when the “war” is over and we can assess our losses…and gains, in terms of creative response to our “house arrest”, with the bittersweet celebration of renewed life as community, thanks to the Torah’s gift of Pesach Sheni.