Pesach is all about freedom, a concept that has taken on new meaning for most of us given what the world has been like over the past 12 months. While we can’t honestly say that COVID is in our collective rearview mirror just yet, things are moving in an upward direction and the contrast between this Pesach and last couldn’t be starker.
There were no guests or festive gatherings last Pesach and there were many people who spent yom tov completely alone. Our shuls were locked and we faced a devastating virus that left us mourning unfathomable losses, even as we had serious reason to fear for our personal safety and that of our loved ones. Like the Mitzrim living through makas choshech, we were completely in the dark, not knowing what the next day would bring as confusion reigned supreme for weeks on end.
Baruch Hashem this Pesach is a completely different experience, one where we can enjoy freedoms that we only dreamed of last year. We may have fewer people at our tables, but we aren’t facing total isolation and while COVID is still with us, the accumulated medical knowledge and the slow but steady vaccination effort is turning the tide on the pandemic. As we emerge cautiously from our modern-day plague and share yom tov with friends and family, the words of the Hagada are coming alive in ways that most of us haven’t seen before, with Hashem figuratively splitting seas for us and taking us from darkness to light.
But even as we savor our newfound freedoms, it is important to remember that there are people in our communities who have yet to be liberated from the chains that enslave them. Those who struggle with abuse, addiction, and other mental health issues are still very much in the dark, living the frightening life that we remember all too well from last year. For them, the plagues that haunt their existence remain an agonizing reality and as we celebrate Pesach, we need to keep them in our thoughts and do what we can to ease their pain. Whether it is inviting someone who is going through a hard time to your Seder or for a Pesach meal, or asking them to join you for a walk or a cup of coffee and a macaroon or two, do something to show that you care, even if it is just reaching out via text, WhatsApp or a phone call. And to reiterate a message that I share every year, if someone refuses an offer of wine, please respect their wishes – you never know what is going on a person’s life and what kind of issues they may be facing.
We don’t always stop to appreciate what freedom really means in our day to day lives, but experiencing a viral outbreak of this magnitude certainly gave us all an opportunity to view the world through different eyes. As we sit down on Pesach night and invite those who are hungry to come and join us, let us all open our hearts to those who are still being plagued with hardships and support them in any way we can as we take the time to truly contemplate what it means to go from slavery to freedom and from darkness to light.