We can still celebrate our freedom this Passover - here's how


March 26, 2021

Dan Williams/Reuters 

Three siblings in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, wave to their grandmother in Haifa as she joins their Passover seder via Zoom application as Israel takes stringent steps to contain the coronavirus April 8, 2020.

It is hard to believe that Passover starts tomorrow evening. How can we even begin to think about preparing for Passover when we are living in the midst of a pandemic? As we each live in the uncertainty of quarantine/lockdown/shelter in place/limited movement - select whichever one matches where you live - many of us have been stockpiling food in our cabinets. And, if they look anything like mine, they are full of chametz (bread products). 

With everyone stuck at home, the line between work and family is blurred, and with responsibilities on overload, just getting through each day feels like a huge success. The thought of having to clean my house with my entire family present 24/7 seems overwhelming - insurmountable, even. And on top of that, if I'm really honest, I don't have the energy or the motivation. Yet, the calendar keeps moving forward. April 8 - the first night of Passover - will arrive shortly, and I know that I will need to do something to get ready for this major holiday. 

Whether your kids are younger or older, chances are they expect some kind of Passover celebration. No matter how your family celebrates - whether it includes one seder or two, or complete elimination of bread products or just reduced consumption of them - no other holiday shouts "Family Time!" louder than Passover. 

Passover is the time of year when we come together to recount our collective narrative. In short, the seder is the retelling of the story of an enslaved people who were freed from bondage and then made their way through the desert to arrive in the Promised Land. In some ways, here in 2020, this story feels more alive and relevant than ever, as so much of this story mirrors our current reality. 

And yet, given coronavirus, Passover this year presents several unprecedented questions: Just how, exactly, will we take this metaphorical journey from a sense of slavery to freedom? How can we be free when we are not free to move about in the world? How do we remain present and focused on the holiday and its message in the midst of the current pandemic? 

After all, the traditional understanding of being freed from bondage might not feel accurate this year. In fact, we might feel a celebration of freedom to be incongruous, as we are trapped inside our homes and isolated from those we love. However, I believe that if we expand our understanding of freedom, we can celebrate Passover meaningfully and retain its profound message. True freedom can be found in a two-pronged approach: by connecting to the "Big Picture," as I call it, and by taking control of our own minds.

When I say "connecting to the Big Picture," here's what I mean: If we are able to move from the micro of our individual lives and shift to a wider perspective, it helps us see things from a different vantage point. By celebrating Passover - even if it's just a pared-down version with our immediate families at home this year - we connect ourselves with our ancestors, who have also experienced significant challenges and traumas over the millennia. The seder helps us link ourselves to the chain of our people, a chain that has survived for thousands of years. Reframing the situation this way can help us find strength and hope. Might we be able to feel the tenacity of our ancestors supporting us, even as we fear that we will fumble? Can you imagine our ancestors cheering us on from the sidelines, "You got this! You can do it! You are part of a strong, stiff-necked, stubborn people. Be strong and resolute!"

By linking ourselves to the larger story of our people, we gain a more expansive perspective. Panning out to see the Big Picture enables us to realize that, despite the immense challenges of the moment, this, too, shall pass. Most certainly, our lives will be forever changed by this pandemic, but I believe that, ultimately, we will be stronger, wiser, and more resilient.

Now, about taking control of our minds. Every day, each and every one of us has thousands of thoughts; no wonder why so many of us are exhausted! Yet, how often do we take the time to reflect on the content of our thoughts? So much of what we say to ourselves is negative - "I'm not good enough;" "I can't do this;" "Nobody cares about me" - a situation that is only magnified in times of stress and duress, like now. 

While Passover is the time to get rid of our chametz, perhaps it can also serve as the time to get rid of our unhelpful, negative thoughts. By cleaning our minds, we can move into a new kind of freedom. After all, true freedom rests in our internal life, regardless of our external circumstances. That's true for our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt; that's also true for parents who feel enslaved to the never-ending responsibilities of child-rearing, as well as for each of us who now feels enslaved to the vigilance needed to combat coronavirus. Ultimately, we become free when we are able to become the master of our minds. As Victor Frankl, psychologist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the book Man's Search for Meaning, taught, "When we are no longer able change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." 

Right now, we are living through some dark times, and there is much uncertainty. How we navigate this experience is up to each of us. How we think about our current reality is our decision. Despite the unknowns, we can choose to fill our minds with hopeful thoughts, or we can choose to fill our mind with negativity and fear. We can choose to focus on what we do have, or we can choose to give attention to what we do not have. We can wake each morning and count our blessings, or we can begin our days in angst and anxiety. We are not able to change the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic, but we can change how we relate to it, how we experience it, and what we feed our minds. 

On March 27, we will once again gather around Passover tables that will likely look very different than they have in years past. The traditional foods that we have been accustomed to eating may not be available, our family and friends may not be joining us IRL, our houses may not have been thoroughly cleaned. Nonetheless, we each have the freedom to link ourselves to the millennia-old chain of our ancestors, reminding ourselves that we have survived, and that we will continue to survive. We each have the freedom to be the master of our own minds, creating our inner dialogues. For sure these times are exceptionally challenging, but know that it is ultimately up to us as to how we experience Passover and parenting in a pandemic. May we choose to paint our inner landscapes with beauty, blessings, and gratitude.

Reprinted from My Jewish Learning.


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