It was a dreadful night, an invisible plague of death lurked in the streets, blood could be seen on the doors and the cries of pain came from each Egyptian house.
It was the night of Passover, actually the original Passover, when our forefathers gathered in their homes on the eve of their redemption.
Each family sat alone quarantined in their homes, safe from the chaos going on around them, confident and trusting G-d that the redemption was near. They all made a seder that night eating matzah, maror and the sacrificial lamb.
The sacrificial lamb had been tied to their bed posts for four days, a most challenging and daunting task for these families. Moses, in the name of G-d, had asked the people to take this idol of Egypt, tie it in their homes and announce to all neighbors and friends that they would be slaughtering it as a sacrifice to G-d.
People mocked and laughed at them, ridiculing the idea that there is some divine purpose and meaning beyond the pleasures of life. They proclaimed that the Egyptian way of life, frivolity, power and reckless behaviors would endure forever, and that serving G-d was for the lame.
But that night the Jewish people traded in all the clothing, takeout food and coarse language for a different lifestyle that would endure forever. They started a life where children and parents ask each other questions about life, purpose, redemption and G-d. A life where parents answer such questions with the seriousness they deserve. Where both speak with tenderness and love and experience the bonds of family and freedom. That night they traded food of luxury for bread of poverty, and in this act, they proclaimed that life without any additives is more alive than all the artificial flavorings that they had come to depend on.
They ate bitter herbs to feel connected with all who suffer, and to remember to always be thankful to G-d even when life is all well. And finally, they ate the Passover lamb, cementing their covenant with G-d that life will forever be about life itself and our essential bond with G-d above all else.
As the Jewish people left Egypt life got no better: Forty years of unemployment in a desert, and no economy or luxury to speak of. No new clothing, no beaches, no amusement parks and no restaurants with mouth-watering cuisine. Yet they not only survived, they actually thrived. G-d provided them with all of their needs; bread from the heavens, water from a well, clothes that never needed washing and homes always shielded by clouds of glory.
The people came to love this simple yet enriching life, where everything is a blessing. A life where small things mean so much and family, friends and a G-dly bond is all that is important. They saw this life as a utopia of sorts and subsequently didn’t want to leave the desert and re-enter the normal world in the land of Israel.
G-d had other plans. He wanted the people to enter the land, to toil, work hard and enjoy the artificial life. Yet He still wanted us to infuse the artificial with true meaning with a mission and purpose. He wanted the entire coarse and mundane world to feel, recognize and bond with the very essence of life, soul and G-d.
So, every year He gave us a special time to sit with our families, eating matzah and maror and celebrating the essentials of life. The bond of family, people and G-d.
This year G-d wanted us to celebrate life in a manner never done before in the history of the world, where all countries and people have stopped their lives, pleasures and business, just so that a few shouldn’t die. After two world wars and endless politics and division, it’s refreshing to see our entire world showing a historical care for life, others and the weak.
So, this year we sit like we did 3,500 years ago, an invisible plague outside our homes, quarantined alone, and thanking G-d with our matzah and maror for the very life and health that is so much more important than the lavish breads and delicacies we don’t eat this night.
But just as then, redemption is at hand. G-d will provide for all our needs, and He will send us back into the hectic daily grind of worldly pleasures. But let’s pray that this time it will be with the coming of Moshiach where the worldly and coarse will be truly united and infused with spirit and soul.
Let’s make sure that for now and forever more, our world will never be the same again. A better world, where happiness will not be about artificial ingredients and personal grandeur but rather a world focused on matzah — the soul of life and candle of G-d infused and felt in all we do.
Happy Passover. PJC
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the spiritual leader of Bnai Emunoh Chabad. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.