Rav Bar Oz* (From Strength to Strength)
What Pesach Meant in Quarantine this Year
by Rabbi Jeremy Barras
As we celebrated Pesach in our homes this year without our extended families, without our friends, and with computers and devices in front of us, we recalled the transformative process of our ancestors moving from slavery to freedom in a much different way.
While we were in no way in bondage as we remained in our homes, we certainly drew some unique inspiration this year from the story of Pesach. In the imminent moments before the last of the ten plagues in which the angel of death was on its way to take the lives of every Egyptian firstborn, the Jewish people were quarantined in their homes for their own protection. They were instructed to place blood on the lintel and doorposts of their home, and remain inside so that the angel of death would pass over their homes and leave their firstborn unharmed. Ironically this year, as we celebrated Pesach, we too were ordered to remain at home for the sake of our own protection.
Certainly the Jewish community could have left their homes and the angel of death still would have been able to distinguish who was Egyptian and who was Jewish. After all they lived in completely different neighborhoods and were distinguishable one from the other in a variety of ways. Nevertheless it was important that the Jews remained in their homes as the danger of the plague characterized by death lurked all around them.
The Midrash explains that when the Jews remained in their homes, this was a sign to G-d that they were engaged in following His commands and were deserving of His protection.
The medieval commentator Sforno adds to this idea when he explains that for the Jewish people on that night, the act of staying home and smearing blood on their doorposts was their confirmation that they understood they would be delivered from their ordeal. In other words, by staying home, they were affirming that though they had suffered for centuries as slaves, and even as death was present all around them, their faith would ultimately be rewarded with freedom.
For us today, sitting at home and recounting the Passover story, we, too, require faith that eventually things will go back to normal. We stayed home, but we didn’t give up. We watched the death toll rise, the unemployment figures soar, the markets tank and we were scared. But on those two Seder nights we were each reminded that at the most critical moment of our people’s emancipation, it was their willingness to see a brighter future that caught G-d’s eye, and earned them their eventual liberation.
May we soon earn a liberation in our day from this plague that is lurking beyond the walls of our homes.
* The Barras family name was created during the Ellis Island Experience. Originally it was Bar Oz, meaning strength in Hebrew.