This year’s Passover seders will be smaller than ever, but they may prepare us for the biggest event in history.
When I was in my forties, an elderly man came over to me after one of my classes. He said: ‘I have been listening to you teach for a while. I would like to date you. I have millions of dollars at my disposal and I would like to take you to a kosher hotel for Passover.’ Of course I was both flattered and stunned-and frankly maybe even a little tempted. I even asked the rabbi of the synagogue where I taught about it, and he was all for it. For various reasons, I declined, but the thing that surprised me most at that time was the idea of going to a hotel for Pesach. Remember this was almost forty years ago and going to a hotel was not as common as in the recent past.
I still feel bothered about Passover hotels, even if the kosher laws are kept in the strictest way. I understand the justifications of leaving home these days: big families, those with two working parents, and not enough space, etc. Still it seems that the practice of transforming one’s own home in preparation for the Seder, is an intrinsic part of the vital experience. I’m not talking about the work involved. Certainly, if help is needed there is no problem with that. Furthermore, the rabbis tells us over and over that the joy of the holiday should not be drowned by over exertion of the cleaning process. I am speaking about a home where all year round, the individuals and families, have spent weekdays and Sabbaths and other holidays together, and now have the opportunity to transform both their homes and inner selves to prepare for the most important collective experience in Jewish life-the seder.
Obviously, this year is different. Jews around the world are trying to find a silver lining in the gloomy and alarming state of the world due to the Corona virus and the forced quarantine. I came up with a hopeful perspective from a major Hassidic work, the Kedushat Levi, from the saintly Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. He comments on a Talmudic piece from the end of tractate Megillah. The Talmud states that in the future, houses of prayer throughout the world will be transported to Israel. The Rebbe posits: ‘In houses of worship, only one mitzvah-commandment is performed, the mitzvah of prayer which in its formal structure is only a rabbinic commandment. If this one mitzvah is enough to merit transportation to the land of Israel, how much more should a Jewish home. In an actively Jewish home, myriads of mitzvoth are done each day. Just some examples are: having mezuzot, giving charity, saying blessings, keeping kosher, ritual handwashing, helping each other out, making peace etc etc.
Perhaps this year, by being imposed from without to remain within, people will stay connected to the walls that are waiting and longing to hear the sacred words of the Hagadah. Then these homes will indeed, as the Berditchiver so beautifully put it, merit to become a fitting container of holiness to be transported to Israel, with the coming of Mashiach, may it happen immediately this Pesach!