The Passover Prism
Fresh insight into often unsung heroes enriches our appreciation
Pesach is a constant of Jewish life, an anchor of wisdom and identity in the millennial saga that has led us through recurring chapters of oppression and to new eras of freedom. Our liberation story is unchanged, but the way we apply its teachings varies with the times. And in 2021/5781, we can truly ask: Why is this seder different from all others?
The captivity imposed by Covid-19 has affected not only the Jewish people but everyone, everywhere. The oppressor this time is not a human tyrant but a non-discriminating virus. The wisest of our leaders have told us to quarantine—a Latin-derived word with biblical echoes of 40-day and 40-year passages.
Just as in Exodus there was dissension, today’s denial of the seriousness of the virus and the claim that masks represent an attack on freedom—rather than the safest path to it—have become rallying cries that attract many, like a golden calf. Those who have failed to recognize our common interest and mutual responsibility enable the disease to spread, undermining the efforts of scientists and leaders to minimize illness and death.
We have all been witness to a CT scan of humanity, showing the essential purpose—like blood and oxygen flowing through the arteries of our cities and communities—of first responders, teachers and child care workers, supermarket personnel and delivery people, factory and farm workers, hospital custodial staff and orderlies as well as doctors, nurses and pharmacists. And it hasn’t taken more than a quick glance to see that this diverse army of lifesavers and heroes looks very much like society as a whole.
It’s not just that the Passover story gives us insight into our own times. Our times also give us a new perspective on the liberation narrative. The Bible makes clear, for example, that Moses didn’t work alone. Even with renewed appreciation in recent years of the pivotal roles played by midwives Shifra and Puah; by Moses’ sister, Miriam; by his mother, Yocheved; and by Pharaoh’s daughter, our fresh insight into the often unsung heroes in the pandemic experience can enrich our appreciation of the dramatis personae in our ancient holiday.
Likewise, we should appreciate the role that each of us—our individual actions, decisions, discipline and sacrifice—play in getting families, nations and the world through a cruel ordeal.
As much as we in Hadassah understand how our history of meeting challenges helps us through each new crisis, this past year has taken us through entirely new terrain, even if we never left home. And we have come this far—to use an expression I became attached to before we had heard of the coronavirus—with pride, passion and purpose. I have written many times of the ways we have taken care of one another, mastered new communication tools that allowed us to Zoom (pun intended) through time, even as time seemed to stand still.
The story of the Hadassah Medical Organization in this unprecedented time—its critical role in helping Israel confront Covid, of being a model for world medicine—continues to unfold. Hadassah researchers are now involved in Phase II clinical trials of a made-in-Israel vaccine. Another HMO contribution, in cooperation with the Israel Institute for Biological Research and Tera Novel, is a mask that not only blocks viral and bacterial particles from penetrating but actually kills them.
Reading the Haggadah each year reminds us that history is a march, and that even when we return to the workplace, home or homeland we left, it is never the same place. The experience of the journey—strategies that succeeded and failed, knowledge gained, losses suffered—makes us stronger and wiser. We must find a way to permanently etch what we have learned in our memories, lest the weaker angels of our nature hinder us in the future.
May we all have a transcendent Passover, one that reflects the ingenuity and empathy that have allowed us to reach this season. And may we all meet soon in Jerusalem.
Chag Pesach Sameach!