Dear Mom and Dad —
I am writing this to you, my mom and dad, my spouse’s mom and dad, and to every mom and dad who will be separated from their children this Passover.
For reasons that I cannot fathom, God has decreed that we spend this Passover much as the Israelites spent the very first Passover: confronting a plague.
The similarity does not end there. The first Passover in Egypt specifically required “a lamb for each home” — that each physical home had to prepare for the night separately, for the blood of a sacrifice was needed to protect each home. That Passover likely separated families. The Torah tells us that the Israelites had large families, and one could hardly expect slave families to have large physical homes. Families would need to be divided. A lamb for each home.
In an eerie echo of that first Passover, the other night the prime minister of Israel enjoined the nation to celebrate the seder only with the inhabitants of each physical home (this restriction might be necessary all over the world). This Passover, each physical home needs to be isolated to protect us from this plague. Families will need to be divided. A seder for each home.
Perhaps the echoes of the first Passover in Egypt can inform our observance this year.
Moses was sent to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery, but Moses could have easily been dismissed as a petty magician. Indeed, Pharoah and his court dismissed Moses as such, in spite of the mounting evidence in the form of the plagues afflicting the Egyptians. That night, however, the Israelites had to actively participate in order to be saved, to betray their masters and side with Moses. They had to acquire a lamb, not necessarily a small expense for a slave, and carefully slaughter it and eat it in the prescribed fashion. If a miracle did not occur, the Egyptians would awake in the morning to find the traitors’ homes painted with blood on their doors, conveniently marked for their vengeance. Why would the Israelites take this risk to side with Moses?
In spite of their physical separation on that spring night in Egypt, the parents and grandparents had a crucial story to tell leading up to that night, a story that made the Israelites accept Moses’ commands. The elders would have told their offspring that their ancestor Abraham was promised that the Israelites would be enslaved and afflicted in a foreign land for hundreds of years. The elders would maintain that Abraham was also promised that the Israelites would emerge from bondage and return to the Land of Israel. The elders could testify that the great Joseph made his brothers swear that his remains would be returned to the Land of Israel when Israelites were redeemed, so certain was Joseph of this promise of redemption. This tradition, passed from parents and grandparents, made the difference to the Israelites in Egypt and they took a lamb for each home. None of this made any sense without the parents and grandparents.
For you, Mom and Dad, this seder may be disappointing in many ways. It will lack the spirit of the extended family gathering around the table. It will be bereft of the inter-generational link that binds the questions of the youngest to the wisdom of the elders. You may feel cheated from the nachat you richly deserve, after faithfully transmitting the traditions of our people to us. We will miss you dearly. Nevertheless, in spite of our physical separation, you have played a crucial role in leading up to this night. We will prepare carefully for this night as you have taught us, preparing a spiritual night in the midst of a physical plague. We will say the words, sing the songs, eat the foods, and tell the stories that our people have told from time immemorial, a seder for each home. None of this makes any sense without parents and grandparents.
In another sense, the best of our society’s responses to our modern day pandemic is a testament to the traditions we have received from you. While the plague on the first Passover night threatened the first-born children, the coronavirus pandemic largely spares our children. It prefers to strike our roots rather than our fruits. With cold calculus, some have suggested that we abandon our roots and forge forward to tend to our fruits. You have taught us, however, the value of human life and to treasure our roots. These values do not emerge from economics, business administration, science, or technology, but from the traditions that began on a spring night in Egypt that you have faithfully transmitted. To protect you and to protect these values, we will have a seder in each home. None of this makes any sense without parents and grandparents.