The Times of Israel published my new article “Ma Nishtana? A Passover Unlike Any Other”
The Passover holiday this year is expected to be the most unique in modern history. For the first time, the Jewish people, regardless of their location, will celebrate not only around the table but inside the Web. It is a special occurrence as physical restrictions have been imposed to celebrate with extended family—particularly to protect the most vulnerable, the elderly, from potentially contracting the COVID-19. This new situation is also an opportunity to zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the connection between the exit from Egypt and the exit from this pandemic.
On Passover night, everyone sits with their loved ones at a festive table to read about freedom and the sufferings of slavery and plagues, and the desire for liberation. We ask ourselves, Ma nishtana? (what has changed), which is an inner reflection on what makes this night different from all other nights. This year, that traditional question adopts a deeper dimension, demanding from us a meaningful and thorough scrutiny.
Passing Over All Calamities
Passover (Pesach) means “passage” or “transition” from the egoistic state of self-love to love for the neighbor, where you think of others, even if just a little. This transformation is similar to completely replacing a computer’s operating program. Likewise, we have to replace our current inner program of a selfish and egoistic approach with one of mutual consideration.
The coronavirus pandemic surged throughout the world precisely to serve that purpose: to make us realize that the whole of humanity is a single unit, where any element in nature, even as minuscule as a virus, can affect the whole system in the blink of an eye. The pandemic is telling us: “Stay home; you will be locked-down until you begin to realize how internally locked-down you are inside your ego.” Our current circumstances indicate that nature is interconnected and humans are the ones who are isolated, an internal isolation from each other.
The phrase, “we were slaves,” that we recite as part of the Seder tradition, refers to the great ego that rules everything, that we are slaves of Pharaoh, of our egoism—our lack of consideration for others. In the modern world, we seem to have raised Pharaoh’s power to such an elevated height that it batters us with its immensity. Unrestrained egoism pits us against the others, provoking rejection, quarrels, and struggles.
COVID-19, Not a Plague but an Opportunity
All human beings and all parts of nature are linked within one closed system, and if one individual thinks only of himself, he is harmful to everyone else. Furthermore, such harm reproduces and spreads widely and rapidly like an epidemic. Just like a healthy body requires complete integration between all its organs and systems, integration is also the only formula for a healthy society that will ensure that no damage is done to either mankind or the rest of nature. Through the coronavirus, nature is trying to bring us to the awareness that mutual guarantee, becoming as one man with one heart, is a necessity for our survival.
Therefore, COVID-19 cannot be considered a malevolent plague that has appeared for no reason or purpose, just like the plagues in the Haggadah we traditionally read about during the Passover Seder (ceremonial meal). The virus is actually an opportunity for humanity, this year like no other, to break free from the clutches of self-destruction and slavery. These challenging times are placing a mirror before us, raising awareness of what we need to correct in order to be in balance with nature, which is our intention to consider the well-being of others. If the purpose behind our connection with the world is to exploit everything around us only for personal gain, the time comes when these bad connections become so unbearable that nature breaks them apart by manifesting itself as a calamity.
When we fix our disruptive and destructive human relations and unite above our differences, we are saved from our enemies and come out from exile to freedom. The exit from egoistic thoughts and actions to those of bestowal is the deeper meaning of coming out of Egypt.
Each unification of our hearts and good intentions with another is a realization of the principle “love thy friend as thyself,” the great rule of the Torah.
All of the commandments, meaning the actions toward these corrections, are included within that one great rule until we finally reach the complete correct connection and enter the Land (Eretz, from the word Ratzon [desire]) of Israel (Yashar-El, meaning straight to the Creator). In other words, our desire becomes similar to and unites with the force of nature that controls everything—the Upper Force that brings about freedom, health, and all goodness in life. Happy Passover!