How Will We Be Different on This Night?

By just about any measure these are difficult times. We have been forced to acclimate to an unprecedented paradigmatic shift in the way we live, learn, and work in a very short period of time. Many of us are also dealing with the sickness or loss of family/community members, as well as anxieties related to the unpredictability of the road ahead. Under the circumstances, we have responded with inspiring ingenuity, with institutions and communities banding together to share best practices and create spaces for catharsis. Many articles have been written, virtual shiurim given, and memes created about the countless heroic efforts of so many and the spiritual implications of our current reality. Indeed, there is authentic achdut, unity, being birthed by this episode, and there is a collective feeling that we are all in this, and will get through this, together.

But what about when we are on the other side of this?

What lessons will we take with us, and in what ways will we be reoriented for the better?

As we move into Pesach, it is incumbent upon each of us to spend time preparing for the holiday, both logistically and spiritually. The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, used to say that the more reliable indicator of a devout Jew is not that he/she is shomer Shabbat, rather that he/she is shomer erev Shabbat. This principle, which we share each year with 8th grade HAFTR students before their shabbaton, speaks to the fact that the degree to which something is special correlates to the degree to which we prepare to make it special. 

With this in mind, in just a few days we will engage in the ancient Jewish art of storytelling via the sacred mitzvah vehicle that is the seder. We will relate the timeless story of yetziat mitzrayim and ask the important question: How is this night different from all other nights? However, I believe that this year in particular, given the social backdrop, it is equally important to reflect on the words of The Holistic Haggadah written by Michael Kagan: How am I different on this Passover night? Given our current state of affairs, how can I, in the paraphrased words of Winston Churchill, see the opportunity in this difficulty? 

In her recent editorial, "Now I finally understand what my grandparents knew," Allison Glock reflects on the childhood memories she has of her grandparents doing seemingly mundane activities with great joy.  She says, "I'd watch them play cards, do crosswords, dance together in their cramped living room, taking care not to topple the miniature, boxy television set that was only ever turned on for baseball games."

Ms. Glock posits that the values her grandparents came to prioritize in life were shaped by their upbringing. She says, "My grandfather served in the war. So, too, did everyone he and my grandmother knew. They'd seen death and futility and heroism and loss. They knew what mattered." 

I would humbly suggest that we all have the opportunity to leverage growth from this challenge. Whether we have rediscovered the beauty of taking an afternoon walk with our spouse, the satisfaction of completing a puzzle with our kids, or the calm that can come from gardening (I've heard this is true from others), we all have the opportunity to clarify our priorities and sensitize ourselves to the situations of others. 

It is my hope that we are all able to get back to normal soon, but I also hope that when we do, we don't go back to business as usual.  I hope that our appreciation for each other and our schools, shuls, and community institutions does not diminish.  I hope we make greater efforts to put our phones down when we interact with our children because we know that over 65% of communication is nonverbal (tone of voice, facial expression, body language). I hope that the tremendous strength of the partnership that I have seen between home and school continues, albeit with a different dynamic. 

Ultimately, I hope that each of us asks the questions this Pesach: How am I different? How have I been changed by this challenge?  And the answer is: I saw the opportunity, and I have been changed for the better.