Why Is Passover Different This Year?
Yael Eckstein | April 6, 2020
It is nearly Passover, and Jews around the world are preparing to sit down at the holiday table on Wednesday night, as Christians prepare to celebrate Easter.
Every year, the seder (the ritual Passover meal) begins with the question “Why is this night different than all other nights?” Yet, this year, the question on all of our minds is, “Why is this year’s Passover different than all other years?”
The vast majority of Jews will be celebrating Passover (and Christians celebrating Easter) in a dramatically different way this year due to the unexpected and unprecedented global pandemic. Here in Israel, as in other places around the world, we are still under lockdown, and can only leave our homes for food and medicine, or walk up to 100 meters from our house for exercise. In addition, our Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly banned Israelis from having guests at any Passover seder.
So in place of our typically large gatherings, we will be hosting modest seders with only our immediate families or, in some cases, completely alone. But though this year’s Passover differs from every other year, it bears some key similarities to the original observance.
A Reminder to Rely on God
God was very specific on the eve of the very first Passover in Egypt. He commanded every family to stay indoors by themselves and to eat the Passover sacrifice on their own. Outside there was a plague claiming the lives of every Egyptian firstborn, and today there is a plague outside claiming lives, mostly of the oldest among us. Inside their homes, the Israelites heard the terrifying screams resulting from the loss of life. Today, we too, shudder as we hear of the suffering experienced by all too many.
And yet, inside our homes, there is faith and hope. There is a deep knowledge that God is present, that God is good, and that His purposes will prevail.
On the eve of the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites slaughtered a lamb for the Passover sacrifice, as commanded by God. They placed the blood on their doorposts as a sign of faith in God. Let’s remember that in ancient Egypt, a lamb was considered a god. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, Moses was hesitant to give the Israelites the commandment to slaughter the Egyptian god out of concern that the Egyptians would kill them for doing so.
Yet, God reassured Moses that no harm would come to the people. They were required to destroy the false gods and publicly deny the false deity by placing its blood where all could see.
This year, we too are being called to destroy any and all false gods that have crept into our lives. As we stay at home, we have been forced to reassess our priorities and refocus on what truly matters. For many of us it means readjusting our lives to focus more on children and family than our fast-paced lives have allowed for in the past. We have been reminded to rely solely on God as the source of all healing, even as the greatest medical and scientific minds in the world struggle to find a vaccine for the coronavirus.
We have been reminded that our true hope lies only in God as our previously dependable sources of provisions fail before our eyes. We have been humbled by shortages of supplies we took for granted, from toilet paper to groceries, and reminded that nothing can be taken for granted – least of all, our lives. We have been reminded of the difference between what we want and what we need, and that we don’t need very much to be happy after all.
The Road to Redemption
Indeed, this year’s Passover has much in common with the original, and that is a sobering thought. Yet, let us also remember that the very first Passover led to redemption – it brought us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light.
The Hebrew word for the Passover meal, seder, means “order.” It is through the seder that we connect the dots and create order from the chaos – seeing how God had plans all along, “…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
I believe that this year, we have a unique opportunity to shed old habits and beliefs that are holding us back. We can slaughter any false gods that have hindered our spiritual advancement. We can hold onto faith and demonstrate to the whole world what it means to have faith in God even when we cannot understand His ways. We can fix relationships, focus more on our children, and reset our lives to a pace more in sync with the true meaning of life. We can embrace the breakdown of our old world, knowing that we are about to break through to a better one.
This Passover is different from all others. I feel it in my heart … and I bet you feel it too. Now is the time to grasp on tight to the God of Israel. Don’t lose hope. Good things are on their way. In the meantime, we will sing, celebrate, and shout our praises to our God who delivers us from harm and blesses us with complete salvation — from the first Passover to this Passover, and for all eternity.
With blessings from the Holy Land, and wishes for a blessed Easter to our Christian friends,