Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim
Today is the first of Nisan, reminding us that Passover is just two weeks away. There has been talk online that, on Passover night, many will refer to COVID-19 as a plague equivalent to the ten disasters God inflicted on Egypt, including swarms of locusts, hordes of frogs, a scourge of boils, pestilence of livestock, and the death of firstborn sons. Might I suggest we not do that.
Although the coronavirus is an epidemic disease, and now, a pandemic because it has spread around the world. And, like a plague, it is causing widespread affliction, as well as pain, loss, and distress. So, shall we liken it to the biblical plagues of our ancestors? I should say not.
You see when the coronavirus is under control across the world and society will begin to recover. There was no recovery after the first, second, third, or tenth plague of Egypt. There was one disaster followed by the next. Do you know where else this disease is different from those we witnessed in ancient Egypt? In a sudden moment God brought forth a plague, and in another, God ended it. The afflictions did not grow exponentially, locusts covered the fields instantly, pestilence of livestock occurred instantly, and all of the first born died in a single night. Do you know the main reason that in our time of crisis and uncertainty that we should choose our words carefully and sensitively and not compare COVID-19 to a biblical plague on Passover? Because, all of us have within us the power to flatten the curve, reduce the infection rate and most importantly help those in our neighborhoods who need our help.
You see, my friends, during the plagues in Egypt, no one helped their neighbor. No one reached out to help a friend. Everyone turned inward to protect themselves. By the way, this has been true of every plague and pandemic in human history. The Black Death (1331-1353), where75-200 million died, they turned on the Jews, the smallpox epidemic in the 1780’s, killed the Plains and Pueblo Indians, Yellow Fever (1793-1798) in the US, the Spanish Flu (1918-1920, killing 17-100 million). The list goes on. No one helped anyone but themselves. But today is different.
Go to Jewishtucson.org and witness the resource your Jewish community is providing for others. Look how the Social Action and Caring committees of your synagogues are helping and reaching out to those who need help. Our communities are doing more than that to combat the disease in ways other than “social distancing.” We are attempting to cure the result of this disease that has brought on loneliness, isolation, and quarantine by practicing “Distant Socializing.” Through Zoom, FaceBook Live and other avenues, we are bring Jewish learning into people’s homes, we bringing clergy to members through community teas with your clergy or visiting every resident assisted care homes through these technologies, and every synagogue is providing the opportunity to be at services and feel the comfort of Shabbat in their own mikdash meat, “little synagogue” called home with their rabbis, cantors and soloists.
Passover is our springtime festival when young animals are born and the grain harvest begins with the cutting of the barley. Its foundational message is to remind us of a moment of our history with its liberation from oppression. The convergence of spring and the breaking of the shackles of slavery combined with vegetative life breaking through from the formally icy ground reminds us that our freedom is not easy. And so we are reminded “those who sow in tears will reap in joy. So we raise the parsley out of the salt water of our tears. This crisis, though no plague, brings us to tears. Let us raise others as we raise the parsley and give everyone their taste of freedom this Passover.