Passover Yizkor 7th Day 2020: Coronavirus Edition
Passover is supposed to be memorable. That’s the entire point of the holiday, if you listen to God tell it: In Exodus 12:14, in the midst of God’s instructions and forewarning about the 10th plague, we read: “וְהָיָה֩ הַיּ֨וֹם הַזֶּ֤ה לָכֶם֙ לְזִכָּר֔וֹן This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Eternal throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time.” Throughout the ages. For all time. God reiterates this just a few verses later, commanding: “You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.” (12:17)
Moses then announces this to the people twice. After explaining placing the blood over the doorposts to cause the plague to pass over, Moses continues: “You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants. (ib. 24) Moses repeats this commandment to the people after Pharaoh frees them. “You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year,” (13:10) Moses repeats to the people while reminding them about the matzot and the Passover sacrifice.
There is a heightened sense of the importance of memory to the Seder rituals as well. You may not be able to remember all 10 plagues all the time, but you remember that there are 10. If you’re like me, you always forget one.
More than the facts or the story, we all remember what we do when we announce the plagues, we take a little wine out of the cup, to diminish our joy and mitigate the sweetness. Whether with finger or with spoon, whether you make a point to discard the plague-y wine or lick your pinky when done, that’s memorable. It’s a memory that is made in the best way, by involving so many of the senses. You hear the plague announced. You touch the wine. You see the drop grow on your plate or spread on your napkin. You smell the brisket. You are completely immersed in an act of memory designed to be memorable.
God makes the point that Passover is meant to be remembered not just by those who experienced it. It is meant to be remembered always by all their descendants. It’s no surprise the youngest sings the four questions. At some point in your life, you were the youngest in your family. Every one of us was. It ensures we all learn the questions of this festival at a young age, so that we can work to figure out the answers as we get older.
We have done a pretty good job as a people of keeping this charge, of remembering and recalling the exodus, how God redeemed us with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And we’ve been immensely creative over the generations trying to ensure continued success.
Well, Passover is supposed to be memorable, all right. I don’t think that any of us will ever be able to forget this one in particular. It will be one of those years we all look back on and tell stories about. “What did you do when the world stopped for Coronavirus? How did you have your Seder when not everyone could be together?” the children will ask. "We did what our people have always done," we will tell them. "We recognized that the importance of sharing the memory of our history would not get, and could not get, vetoed by any pandemic. We improvised, like our ancestors, and ensured that the story was told to a new generation."
“We focused on the important part,” we’ll say. And, for each of us that was probably something different. For all of us it was the same thing, a drive, a sense, that this holiday must be celebrated, that we must remember. Just because we can’t be physically alongside each other didn’t stop us. When normally we’d see tables set and filled with 10, 20, 30, 40 people, filling tables in every room, this year so many shared photos online of Seders set for one, two, four. A computer or a tablet on the table. We used the technology available to us and strove to be together when we could not. And though there were fewer dishes to be done at the end of the night, and though we can be proud that we followed God’s commandment, we know it’s not how it’s supposed to be. We felt it when we didn’t need to put the leaf in the table. We sensed it when we didn’t need to use all the chairs. We knew it when we divided the recipe in half.
On this holiday, so focused on memory, the memory of the past pushed us to move forward, but it also pulls something at our souls. We’re supposed to be together. We’re supposed to be alongside each other. And the absence of those who would have been there only heightens the absence of those who could not be there. It’s not just those who can’t travel who we miss; it’s those who are now sheltered under God’s wings, who were with us at full tables just a few years back, or many years back which only feel like a few. The full tables of the past are what we miss especially this year.
The full tables of Seders past render an image of what the Seder was always supposed to be: generations together, sharing in tradition. The full tables of the Seders of our past burst with memories of their own. They tell the stories of our families which make us who we are. The full tables of our past burst with love: for us and from us. Today, as we transition to our service of memory, our Yizkor on this last day of our festival, we pause to seat our beloved departed at places of honor at the full Seder tables in our memory, our zikaron.
These Seders in our souls burst with the blessings of those who came before us, who taught us the importance of the traditions we worked so hard to fulfill this year. The Seders in our souls bring us closer to all those whose absence we feel every year, and whose presence we feel every year. We feel them with us when we push ourselves to make the recipe the same way she did. We feel them with us when we tell that joke that was told every year. We feel them with us when we hear the familiar melody that they first taught us. Our loved ones of blessed memory are with us at every Seder, as they are with us at all times, in our memory.
No ZOOM password required.