How is this time different than any other time?

A known saying sums up the Jewish holidays with the phrase “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat something.” During these harsh coronavirus times, COVID-19 seems to be entangled with Pharaoh, and they both, pandemic and cruel ruler, seem to be trying to kill us all.

I’d like to invite all of us to take a new look at COVID-19. A new perspective that sees not only what we are likely to lose, but the great potential of what we are likely to gain. This time of year is spring time, and nature seems to be oblivious of the human plight… everything is in bloom. Moreover, the quarantine, this seclusion forced upon humanity, causes a blessed reduction in pollution and global warming; we learn the importance of community, of being together as human beings, through caring, through communicating, through compassion.

During Leil HaSeder we ask, how is this night different than every other night? I’d like to add a wider question, what would we be willing to learn from these coronavirus times? What would we change in our world to make it more compassionate? What would we change in our habits and ways so we be in harmony with nature? How would we make our human connections more kinder? More Closer? More meaningful?

This Shabbat we read Parashat Tsav, in which we are instructed regarding the sacrifices in the Tabernacle. The Haftarah this week is from the prophet Jeremiah*.

There seems to be a discrepancy between the Parasha and the Haftarah. The Parasha says:

Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering… which the LORD commanded Moses in mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to present their offerings unto the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai.

The prophet Jeremiah says:

For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices… but this thing I commanded them, saying: ‘Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’

This sounds like a complete contradiction. How can we reconcile the two together?

The Sages say: on the day I brought them, I didn’t say it, this I said later… This means, that it is a question of focusing on what is important. The sacrifice itself is not the main issue. The important thing is listening, “hearken unto my voice,” and following the right path, “walk ye in the way the I command you.”

What is the right path? The prophet Jeremiah is clear on this point:

Nay, but if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place.

The right path is to care for the poor, the sick, the elderly, not to oppress the stranger… and might I add, care for the earth, oppress not mother nature, for she mothers and cares for us all.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew (mitsrayim), and the word for troubles (bein hametsarim) share the same root. What can we learn from these harsh times, a time of bein hametsarim, a time in which we are between a rock and a hard place?

Passover is our holiday of freedom. I’d like to invite you all to join in a prayer for our freedom, and invite each and every one of you to take what is right for him/herself:

May we be free and healed of the pandemic
May we be free of our enslavement to consumption so we could become more generous and caring to nature and the environment
May we be filled with compassion towards ourselves and our fellow men and women
May we learn to reconnect with nature

Happy blessed Passover to all!

Feature photo by Sergey Schmidt

*The haftara from Jeremiah is the “regular” haftara, not the haftara that’s read on Shabbat HaGadol, but very much befitting these coronavirus times.

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