Jonathan Muskat

Pesach Reflections: Some Thrived and Some Simply Got By and It’s All Good

After speaking with a number of people from my community, I discovered that many of them did Pesach very well.  After the initial disappointment that they weren’t going on a Pesach program or that they weren’t going to be with family, many adjusted their expectations and truly had a meaningful Seder and a meaningful Pesach.  For some people, this was their first Seder that they led, and they felt very empowered by the entire process.  By being forced to lead the Seder, they had to prepare better and communicate their ideas and actually ended up understanding the Seder on a much deeper level this time.  For some people, because their Seder was significantly smaller, there was greater opportunity for discussion and more involvement from the participants.  Many people appreciated having a zoom Seder before Pesach with family members and they coped well with not being with their extended family members during the Seder.  Indeed, even though many people would have rather not gone through a Pesach like this, they expressed to me that in some ways their Seder experience was enhanced and their emunah, their faith in God, is stronger as a result of this experience.  This crisis was transformative for some people.  It has made them become their best selves.

At the same time, there were those who were not inspired to utilize this new type of Pesach experience to work on themselves, to learn the story of Pesach on a deeper level or to work on their faith.  They went through the motions.  They missed their family.  They were worried about sick family members who were suffering with COVID-19.   Despite all the spirituality uplifting speeches that they heard leading up to Pesach, this was a holiday that they simply wanted to forget.  And that’s okay, too.

In this week’s parsha, Aaron the Kohen Gadol must confront the death of two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu, and the language that the Torah uses to express Aaron’s response to this tragedy is vayidom Aharon.  What does this term imply?  The Menorat Ha’Ma’or, a medieval Spanish ethicist, writes that the word vayidom is different than the word vayishtok.  Both words seem to mean “and he was silent,” but vayishtok implies merely a lack of speech and vayidom implies an inner peace, a complete understanding that what God did was necessary.  However, the Abrabanel interprets the silence not as acceptance, but k’even domaim, like a silent stone.  When a parent loses a child, he cannot be comforted.  Aaron was simply speechless.  And yet, Aaron persisted.  He continued to perform the avoda, the sacrificial service that was mandated.  He had a technical disagreement about whether he should partake in a part of the service, but for the most part he continued performing the tasks that were assigned to him.

I think these two different explanations reflect two legitimate approaches in how we serve God under difficult circumstances.  Some of us are the type to look at every new challenge as an opportunity and gain from every experience consciously and meaningfully.  And that’s great.  And some of us are “normal.”  We may not feel close to God all the time.  We may not always feel in the mood of conquering another great challenge that God places in front of us with excitement and passion.  We may just want to get by.  And when we do get by, when we persist in doing Pesach right even without the excitement and  the passion because we simply feel so overwhelmed, then that’s also great.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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