Betsalel Steinhart
Betsalel Steinhart

You can’t have your Pesach/Politics cake and eat it too

What a year it has been, to state the obvious. We at Ramah Israel, bereft of the life-blood of tourists for over a year, are getting ready for the second Pesach under the shadow of COVID – albeit a very different scenario than the fearful and scary one of last year, when we were deep in the unknown, and every step outside literally felt like we were taking our life in our hands. Last year, when we said Ma Nishtana, we really meant it, as we thought of the precious toilet paper and elusive eggs we had secured by all means, fair or foul.

This year is one of cautious hope – yet nothing is normal, and I write this as we seem to be heading towards our 5th election and the skies are still closed to tourists with no clear end in sight despite the vaccine.

So here is a short Pesach/Politics thought, with thanks to Rabbi Dovid Gottleib who spoke in a similar vein this past Shabbat and gave me the idea.

When we first looked at the calendar and saw that this year we have the rare occurrence of Erev Pesach falling on Shabbat – for the first time in 12 years and only once more in the next 26 years – the obvious takeaway was: well, of course! When it then became clear that another round of unwanted elections would take place three days before, it was almost comically perfect.

How could this year be anything else? In this crazy COVID year it just makes so much sense for that to happen!

The religious complexities behind this upcoming weekend are vast and beyond the scope of this blog, but when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, it makes for a very strange day indeed. Shabbat has to be marked with its meals, times, and themes – and to take away from that wouldn’t be right – and yet the larger picture of Pesach coming up, with all that entails, and particularly the enormous importance of getting rid of ones chametz on time and being ready for the Seder – is no less important.

These two are fighting for attention, and we are forced to compromise, eating Shabbat meals early, flushing down the toilet  what’s left of our pitta-challot or eating egg matza, amongst other things – all this makes for what will be a very strange, difficult Shabbat/Erev Pesach.

Finally, it seems that the final election results will be published then, when every vote counts and it will go down to the wire, making for what could charitably be described as not the most relaxing Shabbat.

How perfect for 2020/1, right? How tailor-made for this upside-down COVID year, and how perfect to end a week where have yet again proven that we are in a political stalemate, and still confused as to what to do with ourselves on a COVID level.

What a way to go into Pesach! Insert the facepalm emoji right here!

However, there is a great lesson to be learned.

This Shabbat, no matter how hard we try, we cannot get it completely right. It is impossible. You cannot have a perfect Shabbat with all its demands AND a perfect Erev Pesach-leading to Seder with all its demands. It just doesn’t work, and both aspects have to give somehow…and that’s ok.

To put it bluntly, you cannot have your (Pesach or politics) cake and eat it too – it is not possible to succeed fully when faced with two conflicting pressures.

I think the message is that sometimes we need to take a deep introspective sigh and be fine with not succeeding in something we really want to in life, when circumstances out of our control have pushed it beyond our ability to do so.

There are times where it is not possible to totally win, where you have to accept not being able to succeed fully, when two opposing desires clash. It is not our fault, but that’s simply the case. Doing one thing fully will diminish the other, and that is not an option.

Whether on a personal level, a religious level, a national level, or even on an international pandemic level, it stays the same concept. It can easily be frustrating.

COVID? Stalemated politics? That can be very frustrating. It can eat away at us, it can take away our desire to continue to strive to succeed, it can even depress and drive us to negative actions. But that’s not the way to go.

We want to have a wonderful Shabbat, AND we want to have a great Erev Pesach, but we cannot.

We want to be free of this virus, AND we want to go about our regular lives, but we cannot.

We want to travel freely again, AND we want our safety guaranteed, but we cannot.

Israel wants to open the skies, AND it doesn’t want a mutation of the virus creeping in and undoing all the good the vaccine has done, but it cannot.

We want a stable government, not to vote every few months AND we also want free democratic elections where everyone chooses the party they most adhere to, but we cannot.

So many examples.

We want both.

But we cannot fully have both.

That doesn’t mean we stop trying, hoping, believing.

But we accept that we won’t truly get what we want, and we continue to strive toward succeeding.

A tough life lesson, but an important one.

Perhaps the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot (2:16) say it best:

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה

It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.

Or, to put it another way: Despite the fact that you know you cannot totally succeed, give it your best shot and be fine with that knowledge. Don’t spend too long blaming yourself or beating yourself up about it either – this is part of life.

Chag Kasher Vesameach!

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of the Ramah Israel Institute for Ramah Israel. He lives in Bet Shemesh with his wife and five children.
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