Yehoshua Weber

Pesach and the pandemic: Not having problems had been our problem


We need a guide to help us navigate this pandemic Pesach.

Thankfully we have that guide model in the messages that our matzos convey.

One of those messages is a message about slavery. Quickly prepared matzoh, which was a staple of an Egyptian slave’s diet (Ibn Ezra), certainly represents slavery. That is why the Haggadah calls matzoh, “bread of affliction that we ate in Egypt” and why the possuk (Devarim 16, 3) calls matzoh, “lechem oni,” which Rashi and so many others translate as “bread of affliction.”

Matzoh’s other message, oddly enough, is a message about freedom.

That is why the Haggadah says that matzoh recalls a freedom so hasty that “dough did not rise into bread (Shemos, 12, 39).”

Matzoh’s two contradictory motifs indicate that these two motifs can aid one another.

One way in which these motifs aid one another, is in how afflictions helps us more fully appreciate and more fully maximize freedoms. An example of this maximization of freedoms can be seen in a startling observation made by Dr. William Helmreich, the famed sociologist, who died in the current pandemic. Dr. Helmreich noted that Holocaust survivors were, generally, more successful than their native-born American peers. These survivors, by and large, were blessed with healthier marriages, lower levels of mental illness and income levels that equaled or surpassed those of native-born American Jews.

How did these survivors achieve such blessings?

Were their blessings achieved, not despite their afflictions and disadvantages, but rather, because of their afflictions and disadvantages. Was it because their afflictions helped them appreciate blessings like family, community, the food we eat and the roofs over our heads, that we sometimes taken for granted?

Matzoh’s message of affliction begetting an appreciation of freedom is so apropos for our period.

Most of us – until recently, at least – enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and a previously unimaginable standard of living. But, even while enjoying those freedoms, so many felt afflicted

We weren’t satisfied with a good standard of living; we wanted an extraordinary one. We weren’t satisfied with the give and take of normal marriage; we wanted an ever perfect, ever pliant spouse. We didn’t value a normal child; we wanted a Rhodes Scholar. Our spouses, our children and our situations didn’t measure up to our expectations. And so, like proverbial poor little rich children, we squandered blessings that were there for the taking.

Over these past weeks, we accustomed ourselves to a new reality. Weddings are now backyard affairs, with a few people watching from afar. We do not think about cars or vacations. And were not comparing ourselves to others, because were not interacting with others.

Our current afflictions, oddly enough, have freed us – at least for the short term – from many painful thoughts about not measuring up, or about lacking luxuries that we thought we deserved.

This pandemic will, iyH, depart.

But will our new-found spiritual and emotional freedoms, depart with it?

Will we our post- pandemic mindset, mirror our pre-pandemic mindset?

Or will the pandemic teach us that it’s not just about being freed from affliction, but that if also about being freed by our affliction?

Will we then realize, that for any of us, not having problems, may be have been our biggest problem?

Keep safe and well and may Hashem quickly send the refuah.

About the Author
Rabbi Yehoshua Weber is the founder of the Ohr Tzvi young men’s program, a maggid shiur at Or Chaim and a teacher at Ateres Bais Yaakov, all in Monsey, NY. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue, where he was a member of the beis din and served in many areas of community leadership. He has lectured widely in North America, Russia and the Ukraine, He is renowned for shiurim that address complex contemporary issues and that add historical and social context, for bringing Midrashim to life and for heartfelt, inspirational sermons.. He has maintained regular columns and has been published in many periodicals and writes a popular weekly parsha column. He and his wife Leah, a special education teacher, have seven children and have fostered children for many years, including the Lev Tahor children
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