On Wednesday night, we will sit down to the seder. Some of us will sit down to it alone, sheltering in place. Without parents or grandparents, without a spouse or partner, without children or grandchildren, without friends. In solitude.
Two weeks ago, Miriam Peretz, educator and mother of six, whose son Uriel fell in Lebanon when he was serving in the IDF in 1998, whose husband Eliezer died soon after of a broken heart, and whose son Eliraz fell in Gaza in 2010, sat down to her Shabbat dinner alone, without any of her children or grandchildren. She shared a photo of her Friday night table on Facebook. It was set with one plate, one set of silverware, one cup, grape juice, a Kiddush cup, a salt shaker, and two covered loaves of challah. That’s all. But her heart and her home were filled with something else: great faith.
On Sunday, Miriam was interviewed about the festive table that she had set just for herself. Her answer taught us an important lesson for our current circumstances:
I had a great Shabbat. I’ve never cooked for myself. I’ve always been concerned about what my grandchildren would want to eat. So since I was alone, I made myself kasha. It’s a food that my grandchildren don’t eat. “What is that?!” they would say. “We’re Moroccan, we don’t eat that!” So I made myself kasha, and a healthy salad. I invested in myself.
Times of crisis are not supposed to break us. In Biblical Hebrew, a woman who is about to give birth is said to be “yoshevet al hamashber,” which literally means “sitting on the crisis.” She experiences extreme pain, but a child emerges from that experience of crisis.
Times of crisis enable you to engage in some kind of internal introspection. In my solitude, I have the opportunity to ask myself questions that I don’t have time to consider in the craziness of every day life. On Shabbat morning, when I was reciting the preface to Kiddush, the blessing on the wine, the words “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” suddenly caught my attention. I repeated to myself “‘I will fear no evil,” as if to give myself strength.
Life presents us with many situations. How we choose to interpret them is our choice. You can look at the current situation and see it as a time when you are alone and lonely. Alternatively, you can say to yourself: just a minute, I am giving myself this moment as a gift.
In the current situation, we are also finally learning to appreciate teachers and daycare providers. We are learning to appreciate the baker who bakes our bread, the checkout clerk in the supermarket, the driver who continues to drive passengers despite the risk. There is a long list of such people. What’s most important now is social solidarity. People need to hear good words, messages of strength and love.
What wouldn’t a person do to live? If a doctor told you to take medicine in order to live, you would take it. We are now being told: stay home, and you will live. I will do everything in order to sanctify my life. If that requires me to sit at home for one Shabbat or two, for one month or two, that’s what I will do. What’s important is that I keep looking forward: Why am I here alone? I am here by myself so that I will eventually be able to set a Shabbat table for 30 people, like I usually do. So that I will be able to hear a great Kiddush with all my children and grandchildren.
In 2017, Miriam Peretz won the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement for “strengthening the Jewish-Israeli spirit.” It is easy to see why. If you find yourself alone this year at the seder, keep her inspiring words with you. Remember that you are alone so that you will be able to spend many more seders with the people you love.