This Pesach, we convey our wishes to one another for that simplest and most vital of all things to be visited upon us – good health.
Let us be sure to cleave – as tightly as always – to the principles and the heritage of our people, as ever we do. Just as they have helped us to navigate through difficulties past, so shall they do in the face of challenges present.
There is nobody among our number whose family, parents or grandparents, have been spared adversity, suffering or struggle.
Tragically, ours is a people that must annually steel itself to the challenges of the day by chanting that “In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us.”
Yet, whenever we have been required to adapt ourselves in order to evade and overcome the dangers of the day, the Jewish people have been sure to adapt our traditions as well; for it is by way of those that we are strengthened.
That theme, adaptation, is central to the story of the exodus.
What better encapsulation of adaptation do we have than the matzah, the unleavened bread, for example; an imperfect source of sustenance, born of imperfect circumstances, as the Jewish people fled the bondage of Egypt?
And yet, it is the humble matzah, the very quintessence of adaptation, initially a sign of impoverishment, danger, powerlessness and uncertainty, that has come to inspire generations of Jews throughout the world. Indeed, it enjoys center stage among the beauties, delights, customs and readings of the Passover Seder.
This year, we will recall the story of our salvation in an atmosphere of great uncertainty.
This year, our Seder night will be an adaptation, absent family and friends who would typically be present, without the communal prayers that typically augur in our celebrations.
And so, for that reason, I encourage each of you to make your Seder adaptation a great one!
Remember what it will ultimately become; a source of inspiration to your children, and to your children’s children, as you recount to them how you celebrated Passover 5780, 2020; despite all of the uncertainties that bore down upon you.
The notion of spinning adaptation into inspiration is no mere theory.
In 2006, during the events of the Second Lebanon War, a number of our soldiers were selected to take part in a ‘seek and destroy’ mission beyond the borders of Israel. The order was received on Friday morning, and, under the leadership of our captain, we deployed on foot toward the village of Tayibe, southern Lebanon, that afternoon.
As dusk began to descend upon us, and we fanned out among the olive groves of another man’s country, camouflaged and dispersed as required, my secular captain insisted that all of us would hear kiddush that Friday night. He was adamant that none of us would embark upon that mission without hearing that prayer. As he explained to me, his family recited kiddush at home in times of peace, therefore his soldiers, who were also his family, would hear kiddush, in a combat zone, in times of war.
And so it came to be that over the military radios, aloud, on the hillsides of Lebanon, at the command of my captain, an adapted kiddush was recited for all to hear.
All of the items one would typically associate with a Friday night kiddush were absent. There were no members of our families present, nor wine, nor food, nor a table. Even the presumption that we would survive the night was far from assured. And so we adapted.
Friends, I do not remember what occurred during the course of that mission. I have no idea whether we found anything to destroy or not.
The time spent in Lebanon seems to have blended into a single experience within my own memory, punctuated by daring, starvation, uncertainty, conviction, clarity, blurriness, heroism, doubt and adventure.
But I remember that kiddush, for it was an adaptation thrust upon us that immediately spun itself into inspiration.
Frankly, that kiddush is the only kiddush I am confident I shall never forget.
And I remember that soon thereafter, a ceasefire was announced.
So too, shall you all adapt this Passover. So too shall your adaptations serve to inspire. And so too shall brighter days soon come to pass.
Remember always that even the road to Jerusalem – the city toward which the Jewish people yearn in unison at this time of year – has dips and darkened valleys along the way. Yet she continues to call all of us toward her, awaiting our arrival, uplifting us toward ever more jubilant days.
As we move beyond this pandemic, there may be further difficulties ahead, but we will ascend from these depths, and we will emerge from them stronger, more resolute and more appreciative than ever before.
Let that resolve escort and inform your adapted Seders.
And as the soldier recites in the kiddush below, this year, more than any other year, let your Seder be a זכר ליציאת מצרים – a memorial to the exodus from Egypt.
May neither our hearts nor our heads ever bow to despair and may all the house of Israel enjoy A Pesach Kasher V’Sameach!
KADIMA – ONWARDS, TOGETHER!