Pesach in the Time of COVID

April 3, 2020 in Rabbi Greg Harris


Matzo Ball








It is paradoxical to discuss Passover during an ‘unprecedented’ time of disease.  Plagues are a center piece of the Passover narrative.  We recognize the plague of frogs (tzfardea) with cute plastic jumping toys; hail (barad) by throwing cotton balls at each other; darkness (choshech) by wearing sun glasses; disease (shechin) by wearing dot stickers.

Whether the plagues are historically accurate or an impactful narrative tool illucidating God’s power and Pharoah’s ultimate weakness is not the key point for this reflection.  For me, living through a moment of global pandemic, I realize I have not given enough thought to the long term human impact and trauma the plagues might have had on the Egyptians and Israelites.

As we are adjusting our sedarim this year, I wonder about the longer term ripples from these experiences.  People have been describing to me the ‘plagues’ of isolation, helplessness, anxiety, disorientation, multiple phobias and fear of the virus itself.

These feelings are real.

Beth El staff and lay leaders are working tirelessly to provide virtual spaces for people to connect, learn, pray and support each other.  Being part of Beth El is being part of a community.

As Passover begins next week, we will hold community sedarim via Zoom each night.  On the first night, Hazzan Fradkin will lead the Beth El community seder.  Rabbi Werbin will lead a seder (in Spanish) for the Spanish Chavurah.  On the second night, Rabbi Werbin will lead Beth El’s community seder.

To register and then receive the Zoom link, click below:

First Night – Beth El communal seder

First Night – Spanish Chavurah seder

Second Night – Beth El communal seder

There is a well-known teaching about spiritual aspects of chametz (leavened food).  During Passover we avoid these foods.  Some say it is because this is a time to avoid things that artificially ‘puff us up’.  During COVID, we are setting aside so many things which give the artifice of status, position and importance.  This Passover, we can reflect on the more essential aspects of our lives.

Hopefully, we will be able to rediscover joys which have been too long overlooked.  The simple pleasure of reading a book, playing a game with family members, talking on the phone with friends, going for a walk (with physical distancing).

Look at the Beth El website for the array of classes and experiences now taking place virtually.

To be honest, the work schedule at shul has been extremely busy but I have found a few unexpected moments of quiet, closeness and calm.  Maybe that is what it was like wandering in the desert.  Following the miracles which brought them freedom from Egyptian slavery, maybe the Israelites found moments of quiet in the desert; maybe they discovered a closeness which helped shape them into a family and a nation; maybe they found God in the moments of calm they experienced.

I pray we each rediscover parts of ourselves which have been muted by the external rush we normally inhabit.  Maybe those discoveries will be part of the lasting ripples of this time as well.


Extra Resources For Your Seder

  • Lecture: The Passover Haggadah: A Biography by Dr. Vanessa Ochs Sunday @ 4pm
    Vanessa L. Ochs, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, will introduce her book, which chronicles the history of the Haggadah and explores why the haggadah keeps on being revised….with haggadot for virtual seders being created at this very moment!
    Join via Zoom
    Meeting ID: 558 385 286
  • Download: Click here to download the Feast of Freedom Haggadah from the Rabbinical Assembly