Perhaps the crown jewel of Pesach is the seder. But it is more than a meal. More than a banquet. It is a guide for how we are to live. Seder means order and at the start of the festivities, in the very beginning of the haggadah, is the outline we are to follow. Kadesh to Nirtza. Fourteen rituals that make up the seder. If we disrupt the sequence, there is confusion. Disarray. So too in life declares the seder and the haggadah. Without order, seder, we tumble into hefkerus, chaos. Today we all find ourselves in a place that invites despondence. Our world has been turned upside-down and we are losing our balance. What are we to do as we shelter in place?
One of the most often asked questions in the midst of the quarantine is ‘What day is it?’ When our lives were tethered to routine it was easy not to be lost with the passage of time. Every day had an identity. But now, when our environment doesn’t change and our schedule is redundant, we find ourselves wondering ‘What day is it?’ As our heads spin trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to grab hold of a shifting universe, we are homebound. We observe the appropriate social distance from loved ones and friends but long for something to cling to, so we don’t plod from dawn to dusk. What comes to our rescue is the blessing of routine. The gift of familiar deeds. What saves us, is behaving in the storm as if there is no storm. We acknowledge and dismiss. We adhere to regimen as a sacred duty, rejecting paralysis of the spirit. What keeps us sane, is clinging to the familiar when we are engulfed by the unfamiliar. To avoid the seduction of weariness and despair, we do not hide under our covers, rather we are to jump out of bed each morning and defiantly maintain the old norm as best we can. It is not tedium but holiness.
There was once a clock tower in a town by which all the citizens set their watches daily. Day after day. Year after year. But then lightening hit the tower damaging the clock. No longer did it keep time. The clock master was not due to pass through for a year, so everyone decided to remove and put away their watches. Everyone that is, except for one man who faithfully wound his watch every morning for a year though it never kept proper time. At the end of the year, the repairman arrived. After he fixed the clock in the tower the towns folk gathered in the square to wind their watches. It was a moment of celebration that turned to disappointment. All the unused time pieces were dry, and the gears rusted. Every watch, that is, except for the one belonging to the man who wound his watch faithfully every day, though for a year it never had the right time.
Our salvation and recovery will come because we refused to mourn and sit shiva, because we refused to surrender to hopelessness and gloom. And so, embrace and treasure routine. Wheel the trash to the curb. Work out on the treadmill. Sing lullabies to the children. Plant flowers. Make the bed. Light Shabbos candles. And let us wind our watches faithfully every day as we await the clock master.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Etz Chaim.