Parashat Hashavua

Parashat Hashavua for Chol Hamoed Pesach

Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue, Bentleigh, Victoria

Today, on the cusp of Pesach, we find ourselves empathising with our ancestors perhaps, for many of us, now more than any other time in our lives. We sit in our homes, confined, awaiting a fate outside of our control. We are enslaved to our devices, craving social contact and human connection. We try to create routines, to find meaning or deeper life lessons from the reality thrown upon us. We pray for strength and health for ourselves and our loved ones near and far, as we feel powerless in our isolated existence. This is an embodiment of oppression. Hopelessness, helplessness, and uncertainty are oppression’s offspring.

So, as we sit, isolated in our homes, awaiting the arrival of Pesach, let us remember the key message written in our haggadot, recited at every seder in every country, in every era – “It is the duty of each of us to feel as if we have been personally redeemed from Egypt.” As redemption was not instantaneous for our ancestors, so too, is freedom from our current situation not going to be instantaneous. We’re all in it for the long haul.

But the Israelites took a long time to learn a very valuable lesson – freedom is not a place at which we arrive, but rather a state of mind. If oppression is understood as that which holds us back, freedom can be understood as that which allows us to choose. No one has complete control over their life circumstances, but everyone has control over how they respond to those circumstances. But it takes work to free ourselves of our instinctual (or learned) responses to uncertain and fearful situations. Some of us want to run away to a place where the grass is greener, where people can hug each other again. But that place doesn’t exist right now. Some of us want to brush it all off as a worldwide conspiracy, where everyone has lost perspective, and just try to get on with our lives doing what we’ve always done. But that’s not true and we can’t. Some of us obsessively check the news reports and social media for information in the hopes that more knowledge equates with greater control. But it doesn’t. Some of us just panic, or cry, or shut down because we don’t know what else to do. But everything is the same when we’re done.

So, what do we do? As we find ourselves living in the COVID-19 era, let’s follow our teachings. Let’s embrace our duty to redeem ourselves from these narrow straits (mi-tzrayim). Although, we often, and quite naturally, focus on that which holds us back, our restrictions, what we cannot have or do, let’s remember that Pesach is also zman cherutainu – the time of our freedom – the time where we have the ability to choose how we respond and what we make of this situation that has been thrust upon us against our will.

We can ask ourselves:

  • What freedoms have this experience given us?
  • What are we doing now that we were not free to do before our forced restrictions?

We can change our perspective from what we’ve lost, what we don’t have, and what we cannot do to what we’ve found, what we have, and what we can do. This change of perspective is, in itself, a liberating act.

Two of the most profound steps to freedom are acceptance and empowerment. Identifying what we don’t have, what we must give up, what we’ll miss most for Pesach is the first step in accepting its loss and finding alternatives. We can ask ourselves two questions:

  • What losses must we simply accept as part of this year’s experience?
  • What can we adapt to ensure that we maintain that which we most desire?

Once we accept what cannot be changed and identify what can be adapted, and even, in some cases, improved, we will begin to experience zman cherutainu– the time of our freedom. Wishing you all a liberating Pesach.

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