Parshot Festivals

Closing doors, opening hearts and minds

  • RabbiChaikinUSE
“As for you, you shall not leave the entrance of the house.” (Exodus 14, 22)
by RABBI YOSSI CHAIKIN | Apr 02, 2020

“Hashem will pass over the entrance, and He will not allow the destroyer to enter your homes to smite.” (Exodus 14, 23)

Ever since that first Passover back in Egypt, we have gathered in our homes to commemorate that fateful night on the eve of the exodus, and to celebrate our concomitant freedom. As tradition has it, we start the seder with the famous Ma Nishtana (How different is this night from all other nights?)

But this year, as we prepare for this special night, the foremost question on our mind is: how different will this Pesach be from all other Passovers of our life?

Our seder will not be preceded by a shul service to set the tone for the evening. That will be missed, but the focus of the Pesach celebration is actually our homes. We like to compartmentalise our Judaism: when we want to practice our religion and connect to Hashem, we enter the synagogue; once we come home and close the door, we want to be just us, free to live our life as we wish out of the public eye.

Just like the first seder back in Egypt had to happen in each respective home, the locale of all subsequent Pesach observances is the Jewish home, where families gather to observe the rituals.

With lockdown now in effect, our focus this year is going to be on our immediate family only. No extended family, no guests. Not the large social events that we are accustomed to. For a community that measures the quality of a seder by the quantity of people we manage to seat around our tables, this is truly painful. It’s a pain we are all going to experience. I feel deeply for the many who will be totally alone on that night.

The silver lining is that, this year, Pesach can’t slip into a mere social event. We have a golden opportunity that we shouldn’t miss: to truly explore the theme of freedom, what spiritual slavery means in contemporary terms, and the ultimate redemption of the future.

On the theme of future redemption, the prophet speaks of the painful lead-up to this era, known as the “birth pangs of Messiah”.

“Go my people, enter your rooms and close your door behind you, hide for a brief moment, until the wrath has passed. (Isaiah 26,20)”

As we look in Rashi’s commentary for some deeper insight into this poignantly and prophetically topical prophecy, we find several interpretations.

The first explanation is that G-d is telling us to take refuge in our batei knesiot and batei midrashot, (synagogues and houses of study). How so, you may ask? Our current circumstances have forced us to move the shul into our homes, to turn our abodes into a mini-sanctuary. Our residences have become places where we now pray and learn – there is an abundance of lectures, shiurim (Talmudic study sessions), and virtual minyanim (prayer quorums of 10 men) via Zoom just in our own communities, not to mention beyond our borders, and for those off work, available time for this.

Rashi then quotes Rabbi Tanchuma, who suggests entering your rooms as a journey into the depths of your heart to ponder your actions. Isolation from the hustle and bustle of the world affords us the unique opportunity to truly introspect.

Targum Yonatan explains closing doors as the performance of good deeds that will protect us from harm. Now more than ever, we can commit to upgrading our observance of Yiddishkeit. Even without freedom of movement, there are so many ways we can show kindness to others. According to Rabbi Tanchuma, it’s a reference to the closing of the aperture of our mouth, to refrain from questioning G-d’s decisions at this time.

How different this Pesach will be from all other Passovers of our lives! May Hashem indeed “pass over” our homes and not allow the destroyer to strike.

May this very different Pesach be one of true redemption, not just from the 21 days of restriction, but also from about 21 centuries of exile.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.

Chag Sameach!

  • Rabbi Yossi Chaikin is the rabbi of the Oxford Synagogue Centre, and the chairman of the South African Rabbinical Association.


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