Lockdown thoughts: National stability begins at home

At the moment of our liberation, G-d says to Moshe that he should tell all the people to enter their homes Like we are doing now.

Sivan Rahav-Meir ,

Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-Meir
Eyal ben Ayish

There's no choice. We're stuck at home, between the kids and the computers, between the kitchen and the living room. In contrast to this, in yesterday's Torah portion, we go out from slavery to freedom – but are suddenly at home.

It sounds strange. Immediately upon leaving Egypt, at the moment of our liberation, G-d says to Moshe that he should tell all the people to enter their homes in order that every family should hold the first Pesach seder in history.

Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah offers an explanation for this, in words that may help us during the extended lockdown:

"It's the way of the world. In the days of radical change and revolution everyone is swept outside. Private matters are pushed off, family life does not merit any attention, no one thinks that this is the time to invest in the home.

"The Exodus from Egypt is different. One of the first mitzvot commanded in the midst of the drama of leaving slavery for freedom is to gather at home and eat a sacrificial lamb as part of the first Seder in history, even while still in Egyptian territory.

"The command is to leave the mass excitement in the streets and the marketplaces behind -- and to go into your private tent. Each family is to eat alone, exclusively, at home. Even public figures are ordered to leave the masses at this time for the sake of the first family feast to celebrate liberation as a free and royal people. In order for stability to be achieved for the entire nation, stability must first be established in the private domain."


Still, it is not so easy. This Israeli song may help:

"We survived Pharaoh, we'll survive this too." This famous sentence, written by Meir Ariel z"l, is suitable for this period's Torah portions and is suitable for the lockdown we are in.

Ever since slavery in Egypt, in the face of every calamity and distress, this idea has been our motto. We have known more difficult times, and we can draw strength from history, from a sense of proportion, from the fact that we survived crises greater than this.

But that is not enough. The question is: In what manner will we manage to survive this? The first chapter of Exodus describes in one sentence the essence of Jewish resilience: *"But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength."* Our goal is not only to survive the crisis but to prosper from it. The worse the suffering gets, the more we gather strength.

During our servitude in Egypt, we grew to desire not merely a return to normal, but redemption. Ever since then, for more than 3,000 years, we have contended with many crises, but always grew and achieved greatness through them.

It is hard at the present moment for all of us. We are all in distress. "We survived Pharaoh, we will survive this too," with G-d's help. But afterwards, how will we look when the pandemic is over? Which treasures will be discovered and which blessings will be revealed? Which positive changes – on a personal, national, and worldwide level – will we see?

And what prevents redemption now?

What delays the redemption during our lifetime? What prevents the Exodus from Egypt? Not only Pharaoh, but also ourselves. Moshe Rabbeinu came to the people with news of impending freedom on his lips. And gets the following reaction: *"But they did not hear Moses due to shortness of breath and hard labor."* How disappointing!

We have here two enemies that prevent the people from "leaving Egypt": hard physical labor and lack of spirit. Their bodies are weary, but so are their souls. They have neither the time nor the space to dream great dreams. The urgent takes the place of the important.

We are called upon to pay attention to these two enemies, lack of spirit and hard labor, in order not to miss our Exodus from Egypt. What can be done? Our sages tell us that Shabbat is one of the ways to leave Egypt today. Shabbat neutralizes hard labor since we do not do any physical work on this day, and it replenishes our souls since we are detached from cell phone alerts, miscellaneous pressures, and daily distractions. On Shabbat, we allow time and space for spirit, for content, for dreams. Try it this coming Shabbat.

And - a reminder as we suffer the lockdown

More than 4,000 people have passed away in Israel due to the pandemic. It would be fitting to mourn every one of them, to learn from each of them, but that's impossible. Here is a little something about one of them and may these words assist in the ascent of all their souls:

Dr. Nehora Amar-Gavrilman wrote me about her grandfather, 93-year-old Yehonatan Mazuz. He immigrated to Israel from the Tunisian island of Djerba, lived in Safed, and raised a glorious family, including an adopted daughter, with his wife Sarah. He was a teacher and administrator in area schools, received an outstanding educator award from the Ministry of Education, and after retirement wrote many books. The last photograph of him was taken a week ago during a Zoom lesson that he broadcast enthusiastically to his offspring throughout Israel.

Many family members of those who died from the pandemic speak of having missed out where their departed loved one is concerned. Nehora did not miss out. Two years ago she noticed two recurring thoughts: it's a shame that I am not sufficiently in touch with grandpa and don't hear everything he has to say, and it's a shame that I do not manage to regularly study the weekly Torah portion.

So she decided to set a weekly meeting with her grandfather as a study partner. In the course of their study together, Nehora learned about and perpetuated the customs and traditions of the Jews of Djerba. They managed to study every weekly Torah portion but lingered over parashat Bo. The Exodus from Egypt is our most important story, her grandfather told her, the most important story in all of human history. "And you shall tell your child" is a mitzvah, he explained, and we have an enormous responsibility to pass along the Exodus story.

This week, during the Shiva mourning period, Nehora pored over photographs, recordings, and notes with a feeling that she had not missed out since they had fullfilled the mitzvah of "And you shall tell your grandchild" together.

In his memory. In their memory.

• Translation by Yehoshua Siskin