Pesah 5781

Dvar Torah given at Ramah Darom March 29, 2021

Hag Sameah!

It is so good to be here together! Two years ago, when those of us who were here at Ramah Darom said goodbye to one another we had little idea of what the past year would be like. Given everything, to be able to stand here, in this place, at this time feels miraculous.

ברוך הטוב והמטיב- Blessed is the one who is good and who causes good to happen.

Thanks also to the excellent staff at Ramah Darom who persisted in finding a way for us to be together.

And thanks to each of you who for taking the decisions and following the protocols so that we could be part of this special Passover at Ramah Darom community  together.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the formative communal experiences that shape whole generations. I suspect that this time of pandemic is such an experience. For our ancestors, the experience of slavery in Egypt and the liberation of our people was another such experience for their generation and its influence has endured until today.

As just one example, more than a couple dozen times in the Torah we have the phrase כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצריים. For you were slaves in the land of Egypt. Our collective experience in Egypt is the basis for why we must not oppress the stranger or to love the גר.

And out of Exodus story, of course, comes the ritual of our Passover seder and the structures of this holiday. Marking the transition from slavery to freedom is so ingrained in our communal consciousness that having a seder is one of the foremost rituals observed by Jews of all levels of observance.

The Mishnah describes the Passover sacrifice as a communal event. Family units came together around the size of their sacrifices. And of course, in the Temple period this was a pilgrimage holiday. People came together to Jerusalem to mark the occasion.

And yet, as part of the seder we read:

בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם,
 שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר , וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם

In every generation a person must see themself as if they personally came out of Egypt. As it says: And you should tell your child on that day saying: because of this that God did for me when I went out of Egypt.

This is different from the communal experience of pesah that we’ve been discussing. Being part of the communal narrative from slavery to freedom is one thing. It’s quite another to consider the experience from one’s personal perspective. Talking about the experience as if we, as individuals, were personally there.

We are living through a generation shaping experience. Collectively the impact has been immense. It’s laid bare some of what has long been not working in our society. The racial and economic disparities, the privileges that we have to prioritize our safety or the safety of our loved one that doesn’t extend to everyone across society. The luck that we happen to be living in a country and in locales that have been able to source and administer vaccines.

Though we can just about see a future beyond Covid-19, the impacts of living through this time and what it has meant are yet to be fully calculated.  It’s simply too soon to know what it will mean for our society, if we’ve learned anything about collective responsibility or our interdependence on one another.

And in the middle of all that tension is the individual experience. We’ve all been though the same thing but we are not all the same.

We were there. And it was different for each of us.  

Some of us felt loss much more proximately.
Others of us went through major life changes without the support of community.
Some of us were truly alone and were isolated.
Others of us had no ability to be alone.
Some of us found inspiration in the creative virtual Jewish experiences that were suddenly available.
Others of us grew far beyond our limits in caring for others. Professionally or personally.
Students lost a year or more of their formative experiences.
We missed out chances to say goodbye to those we lost or to be there for those who are mourning.
We missed out on shabbat dinners, and holidays, vacations and family time.

Each of us, could generate a personal list of things that we missed out on in the past year.  

As we reconvene in this special community and as we begin to catch up with each other after a really difficult pandemic experience, let’s remember that while we all went through the same experience, we didn’t go through the same experience. Let’s listen for what we experienced in common  but let’s also leave space to voice and acknowledge the unique experiences of each of us. Let’s remember that we’re living through a generation changing event. And each of our experiences is unique.  

And as we start to turn our experiences during this pandemic into a narrative for the future, let’s hold both the communal and the individual aspects of the experience. What are we a part of, and what of this experience is unique to us.

As with the celebration of moving from slavery to freedom, let’s make sure we leave space for the communal and the individual. And, as members of this unique community, let’s catch up collectively and personally. Let’s build and rebuild this community to support each of us in what we’ve been through and to be a place where we can come together collectively in celebration of our freedom from Egypt and our freedom to be together in community here and now.