Many kids—and adults– dream of being heroes who step up and save others in times of emergency and crisis. Perhaps that is the appeal of certain types of adventure stories, shows and movies – we pretend we are the heroes. We imagine we would do the same heroic things.
During this Coronavirus crisis, we have seen people on the front lines step up and indeed do heroic things. But what about the rest of us, who do not have this opportunity? Perhaps Passover can instruct us in heroism.
On Passover, a good candidate for hero would obviously be Moses. But the Haggadah goes out of its way not to mention his name. This omission is commonly explained as emphasizing that it is God who brought us out of Egypt. But perhaps it is also because there is not one hero of Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, but many.
-The unified crying out to God by all the people (“v’nitzak el Hashem”), which God listened to.
– The Jewish women who kept up hope for the future and encouraged their husbands to join them in the conception of a new generation, in a hope which defied the darkness, which defied the decree that all baby boys would be killed.
– The midwives who saved the baby boys.
– The sister and mother of Moses, who rescued him.
– Pharoah’s daughter herself, who knew that Moses was a Jew but adopted him anyway, in defiance of her father’s rules.
– The Jews who listened to the instructions to put the blood on their doorposts, and hunkered down in their homes. This doesn’t seem like much, but they set the precedent for thousands of years to come of a Jewish home with a mezuzah on its doors, marked by a dedication to God and holiness.
– We tend to think of the first person to step into the sea, whom our sages identify as Nachshon ben Aminadav. But just because one person steps in first doesn’t mean everyone will. Each person who stepped into the water also played a part.
God took us out of Egypt, but a lot of heroes made it possible. And their heroism wasn’t necessarily a picture of high drama. They rose to the challenge with many little acts of goodness. They prayed. They loved. They refused to do evil. They nursed children. They built Jewish homes. They stepped into unknown waters.
The truth is that today, as we are all locked down with Coronavirus, there are opportunities to be heroes as well.
– We can truly pray and connect ourselves, and by extension the Jewish people and humanity, to God. Prayer is not an antiviral medicine—it won’t stop the virus. But it can make us better and holier people when we come out of this crisis. It is medicine for the soul.
– We can be kind to those around us. Our children, parents, brothers and sisters who we are stuck with are people too. Undoubtedly we will get upset at each other, especially now. But we can work on being more gentle and backing down when we’ve crossed a line.
– We can give tzedakah.
– We can do something that collectively is extremely important, though it feels like nothing: hunkering down and following the proper health protocols. Doing this really boring, frustrating, angering thing makes us partners in saving lives.
– We can affirm that true freedom is of the soul. It isn’t the size of the world that we wander that defines the greatness of our lives, it is the size of our heart. And that heart is ours to open up and make great, even within the uncomfortable restrictions of being stuck in our houses and rooms.
We, too, are in unknown waters like the Red Sea. We, too, can be heroes: We can pray. We can love. We can refuse to do evil. We can nurse and love our children, be kind to our family, build Jewish homes.
And of course, we should look for the opportunity to make a bigger difference, to be the “Moses” of this day– if we do find that opportunity, we should take it. But most of us won’t find that opportunity. So we will have to rise to the occasion in every kind word, every game of cards, every bedtime story, and every word of Torah.
Most of us won’t be the Moses of this story. But we can be its Am Yisrael. We can be its heroes.