When the first Passover seder took place, Israelites were instructed to close themselves into their houses and protect themselves with a ritual of daubing the blood of the Paschal lamb on their door. They stood at high alert, staff in hand and sandals on their feet as they consumed the required meal of unleavened bread, bitter herbs and the roasted meat of the lamb. They were ready to leave Egypt behind and with it their confinement. And all the while, it is unavoidable to say, they waited out the ravages of the 10th plague safe behind their walls marked with the sign that they may be passed over. Yes, we too are isolated within our households and likely to be so when Passover comes. But as tempting as it is to lean into the imagery of the plague, I do not want to do so. Because COVID-19 is a terrible pandemic, but not a plague.
When the Israelites sequestered in their home and painted the blood on their door, they did it to distinguish themselves from the rest of the households. The mark told the destroyer to move on by and touch someone else. When those of us fortunate enough to stay home with our loved ones do so, it is instead a recognition that there are no designated targets. And we each know that whatever we do is not primarily for us, but for our neighbors and co-workers and others we do not know. We do not say to the invisible killer go get someone else, but to each other we are in this together, flattening a curve which commands us in a way more abstract, yet just as urgent as the One who told Moses and Aaron what was about to occur.
Our houses have no blood on the doorpost, neither for protection nor identification. As I imagine sitting at my Passover table with many fewer people in my house, but perhaps many more connected to us from theirs, I think about what we might do when we get to the part about the plagues that struck Egypt. As we take a drop of wine out for each in order to symbolize diminished joy, we will think also of those who have suffered and succumbed to COVID-19. And we will recognize, please G*d, the blessing of being able to once more recount and relive the story of the Israelites and the meal they ate in haste awaiting redemption. However, most poignant about having a seder in a house closed off because of the threat of the coronavirus will be the unmistakable teaching that, unlike that midnight in Egypt we, all of us, are in this together.
Rabbi Michael Bernstein is the spiritual (and now virtual) leader of Congregation Gesher L’ Torah. He is a member of the advisory committee of SOJOURN, a frequent participant on interfaith panels, and member of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers.