Today is the first of Nisan reminding us that Passover is just two weeks away. There has been talk online that, on Passover night, many will refer to COVID-19 as a plague equivalent to the 10 disasters God inflicted on Egypt, including swarms of locusts, hordes of frogs, a scourge of boils, pestilence of livestock and the death of firstborn sons. Might I suggest we not do that.
This coronavirus is an epidemic disease, and now, a pandemic because it has spread around the world. And, like a plague, it is causing widespread affliction, as well as pain, loss, and distress. So, shall we liken it to the biblical plagues of our ancestors? I should say not.
You see, when the Coronavirus is under control across the world, society will begin to recover. There was no recovery after the first, second, third or 10th plague of Egypt. There was one disaster followed by the next.
Do you know how else this disease is different from those we witnessed in ancient Egypt? In a sudden moment God brought forth a plague, and in another, God ended it. The afflictions did not grow exponentially, locusts covered the fields instantly, pestilence of livestock occurred instantaneously, and all of the first born died in a single night. Do you know the main reason that in our time of crisis and uncertainty we should not compare COVID-19 to a biblical plague on Passover? Because all of us have the power to help those in our neighborhoods who need our help.
During the plagues in Egypt, no one helped their neighbor. Not a soul reached out to help a friend. Everyone turned inward to protect themselves. By the way, this has been true of every plague and pandemic in human history.
During the Black Death (1331-1353), where 75 million-200 million died, they turned on the Jews. The smallpox epidemic in the 1780s killed the Plains and Pueblo Indians.
The Spanish Flu (1918-1920, killing 17 million-100 million). The list goes on. No one helped anyone but themselves. But today is different.
Our communities are doing more to combat the disease in ways other than “social distancing.”
We are attempting to cure the result of this disease, which has brought on loneliness, isolation and quarantine by practicing “distant socializing.” Through Zoom, Facebook Live and phone calls, delivering groceries, rabbis and volunteers are bringing Jewish learning and company into people’s homes. You can do this, too!
Passover is our springtime festival when young animals are born, and the grain harvest begins with the cutting of the barley. Its foundational message is to remind us of a moment of our history with its liberation from oppression. The convergence of spring and the breaking of the shackles of slavery combined with vegetative life breaking through from the formally icy ground reminds us that our freedom is not easy. And so, we are reminded, “those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” At our Seder tables we will raise the parsley out of the salt water of our tears. This crisis, though no plague, brings us to tears. Let us raise others as we raise the parsley and give everyone their taste of freedom this Passover.
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