Last year at this time I was happily making initial preparations for the Malverne Jewish Center’s third annual Community Passover Seder. Well, you know what they say about “the best laid plans.” I tried to hold out hope that the novel coronavirus that had reached our area would be quickly contained, but no such luck. We moved the seder online and did our best.
This Shabbat, we’ll read from parashat Bo, the third reading in the book of Exodus. The first several plagues haven’t moved Pharaoh to soften his heart and release the Israelites from their bondage, so now God brings in the heavy artillery. Locusts cover the earth and eat up the crops. A darkness “so thick it can be touched” blankets the land for three days, and while the Egyptians are stuck in their homes in the dark, the Israelites enjoy light in theirs.
The final plague, the killing of the first-born of the Egyptians, people and livestock, is a measure-for-measure, in Hebrew, middah k’neged middah punishment for the previous Pharaoh’s decree that Israelite male children be thrown into the Nile. As the Israelites were getting ready to leave Egypt, they were essentially told to go into lockdown, so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes.
The Torah never tells us how the Israelites reacted to being told to put blood on their doorposts and stay inside; we can only surmise that, after seeing the damage caused by the first nine plagues, they realized God wasn’t fooling around, and it might be best to comply.
The rest , as they say, is history. Sadly, Covid-19 isn’t history, and many of us will be looking at another Passover where we won’t be able to gather as a community, or even with a small group of friends or family. Some will have already observed the first yahrzeit of family who succumbed to the virus in its early days, while others will be celebrating a recovery and learning what after-effects they may continue to live with.
Were there Israelites who thought the final plague was a hoax, who still didn’t trust Moses or God? Was redemption really going to happen, after so many false starts? As I begin preparations for the Malverne Jewish Center’s “second annual Zoom seder,” I continue to pray for all who are eligible to the vaccine to be vaccinated, for this vaccine to begin protecting those who can’t be vaccinated or are waiting, and for all of us to have the “ko-vid” (in Hebrew, kavod, “strength”) we need to thrive and help others to thrive as well.
*The Hebrew letters kaf-bet-dalet (כבד) add up to 26