Tonight, the first seder of Pesach, would normally be a very joyous family occasion, lots of eating and drinking, lots of laughter, lots more eating and drinking, plenty of songs to sing, more eating and drinking, welcoming the prophet Elijah to our seder table and joining with him in some drinking and eating.
To repeat my first words… it would normally be a very joyous family occasion.
The dreadful disease of coronavirus stole that joy away from us. From last year’s seder with 9 at the table, this night will be only 2 of us…my daughter Liora and me.
Together we will read the entire haggadah and sing the many songs in the melody of my father’s family for many generations.
We will read the portion describing the ten plagues which God brought upon the Egyptians for their stubborn refusal to end 430 years of Hebrew slavery and with the leadership of Moses to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until they approached the land which God had promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.
At that point in the haggadah I will add an eleventh plague, coronavirus, a dreadful plague not brought by the hand of a loving God. Brought instead by one man in China who had eaten a diseased bat. From one to millions, the pandemic has attacked us.
It is customary to dip our small finger in the glass of wine, removing a drop of the wine as we read each of the ten plagues. Our rabbis have taught us for two thousand years that we must not rejoice at the destruction of our enemies. By removing ten drops of wine we recall our humanity.
But today, on erev Pesach, I discovered by chance some better news which brightened my gloom. I read the news on the internet that the American candidate for the Democratic chance at the presidency in November, the Vermont Jewish senator, Bernie Sanders, has to my personal joy withdrawn his candidacy. There will be no President Sanders, the anti-Israel Jew. There will be a former Vice-President of America, Joe Biden, who will join the debates with the sitting Republican president, Donald J. Trump.
That news excited me and was the prelude to a happier Pesach seder.
Bernie Sanders is a Jew by birth, completely remote from his ancestral faith. He learned his socialist ideals on an Israeli kibbutz. He married an Irish Catholic woman and they spent their fabulous honeymoon in a communist paradise, the former Soviet Union.
Such a man is not fit to become an American president. America is a democratic nation and its citizens have no appetite for socialism and for Sanders’ rendition of it in the White House where thanks to God and to common sense he will never be.
Now if only the good news from America could travel across the oceans and seas to beautiful tiny Israel, we too might be able to share in similar good news when and if prime minister Netanyahu will fade out of our politics.
In the story of Pesach we read over and over again and retell the fabulous story of our exodus from Egyptian bondage. For me, one of the greatest of the miracles was how Moses was able to withstand the almost endless complaints of the freed Hebrews.
They complained that they had no bread. God sent them manna. They complained that they had no water. God instructed Moses to strike a rock and water flowed out. They chastised Moses and reminded him that in Egypt they had plenty to eat… fish, leeks, onions, cucumbers and melons. Why must they be punished with lack of nutritious food, they asked.
God heard their cries and he sent down to them flocks of kosher birds which they could eat. But they came down daily by the thousands until the people again complained that their mouths, noses, stomachs were filled with too much food. How was Moses able to survive the dissent?
He had an amazing father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro) who sat with him and counseled him advising him how to govern so many thousands of wandering Hebrews. The advice, well-offered and equally well-taken, was successful…. For a time.
But when Moses ascended the mountain in Sinai to receive two tablets of God’s laws, he was gone for forty days and forty nights. The frightened Hebrews believed that he had disappeared or had died. As a result, they turned to the brother of Moses, the future High Priest Aaron.
They demanded a god who could be seen, not an invisible God that only Moses knew. And Aaron instructed the goldsmiths to create an idol in the form of a golden calf. When Moses finally descended from Mt. Sinai and saw his people singing and dancing around a false god, he, in his anger, smashed the two tablets of the covenant, and destroyed the idol of a false god.
Here in Israel we have thousands of Moses and thousands of Aarons. We have no tablets of the law and no false gods. We do have the remnants of a once democratic government now in disarray.
For eight days and nights we are commanded by our Eternal God to eat the dry matzot called the “bread of affliction”. Uncomfortable by many, matza has become the “bread of constipation”.
It is, however, the most beloved holiday of the Jewish people for the past three thousand years. With all the necessary preparations, the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking and baking, tireless homemakers happily fulfill the laws and commandments which God revealed to us at Mt. Sinai while we continued our trek in the desert sands until we reached the land which God had promised us.
We are blessed as a people to be once again in that holy and promised land. The dreaded virus will eventually disappear but the Jewish nation will live on forever.
The Americans can sing a jolly tune called “Bye Bye Bernie”. What song, tune or melody can we sing in the very near future when corruption is no longer among us?
In the meantime, please enjoy the seder. Read the haggadah to your children. Tell and retell the great story of our freedom and our liberation from cruel slavery.
Chag haPesach kasher v’samayach l’kulanu. A kosher, happy and healthy Pesach to all of us.
And to American Jews, be happy. Add “Bye Bye Bernie” to your prayers.