The Herzogs' seder table
The Herzogs' seder tableCourtesy

Anthony Cohn is a Paediatrician in London UK [email protected]

We are approaching Pesach at a difficult time for many people. Many of us are in some degree of turmoil and are at best apprehensive as to how to ‘celebrate’ Pesach especially, how do we feel joy or try to manufacture it when we just aren’t feeling it.

This has been troubling me, so I wanted to share some ideas with you. It is clear that I am not a rabbi so in some cases I might have taken too much poetic licence –forgive me. I have discussed these ideas with an eminent Rabbi who broadly approves of them. Any errors are mine alone.

Normally, when we picture yetziat mitzrayim, the Exodus, we imagine a triumphant, ecstatic departure from Mitzrayim, Egypt, celebrating our freedom. This year I stopped to think, what was the Mitzrayim experience really like and how did it affect us?

At the end of our time in Egypt we had experienced terrible suffering, in addition to the back breaking, humiliating physical labour, we were dislocated from our normal way of life, families were torn apart, relationships impossible and we saw our children murdered pitilessly.

With the start of the plagues, life seemingly returned to 'normal' and we had time, probably at least a year, to prepare to leave. Maybe Hashem realised that we needed this time and some positive experiences, because in the immediacy of our pain we did not even have the capacity to escape.

There was clearly excitement as we left, but this was short lived, we despaired as soon as we got to the Red Sea losing courage and hope, the ecstasy of crossing the sea and feeling safe was quickly replaced by the mundane demand for water and food. We clearly struggled to 'get with the project.'

Even at the greatest revelation in history at Mount Sinai we were overwhelmed and built a golden calf, and just as we were about to enter the Land of Israel we let the spies dissuade us from this.

It is interesting that after the episode with the spies we wandered in the desert for forty years. We are told that Hashem did not speak to Moshe during this time. If we had committed such a great sin, why were we not killed immediately? Taking great poetic licence, perhaps Hashem understood that after all we had been through it was too much to ask of us to conquer the land, that had to be the task of others.

Maybe by not speaking to us was a sign that he realised that we needed to be left alone and given space. But there was something precious about us exactly as we were, our challenges, doubts and imperfections meant we were crucial to inspire the generation that would go on to conquer the land.

Can we reflect on these episodes in a kinder way? We had suffered unimaginably and were carrying trauma and perhaps in today's language PTSD. We did not make a Seder in the desert till just before entering Israel, perhaps it was simply we couldn't 'be there.'

Another question, why are we told to consider ourselves as if we had left Egypt rather than if we had entered the land of Israel? There must be something about leaving Egypt. We were traumatised and broken as people and families. Perhaps our strength was that despite this we carried on and with Hashem's help we moved on, not at speed and not doing everything as we should but we did keep going. Suffering changed us, but we found a way to live the best lives that we could without negating the pain.

Not only that but we kept going together. Moshe specifically demanded that the weak and vulnerable were an essential part of the project. We looked after each other - each family is said to have looked after the orphans of the four fifths of us that died in Egypt. When we stayed together we were strong. Failing to look after the strugglers and stragglers made us all vulnerable.

We could only come out of Egypt as a group, looking out for, and looking after each other, those with more strength helping those with less, and as our situations changed becoming the helper or the helped in turn, accepting both roles with grace.

As we approach Pesach, we need to acknowledge that many of us, if not all of us are hurting in some way. How do we react to Pesach? - for some, the pain may be too raw to experience anything positive. Our world has changed and we can’t easily adjust to the new perspective that we are forced to take. The rituals of Pesach might feel merely like ‘going through the motions.’ It can seem overwhelming, inexplicable and pointless. Our history vindicates these feelings, but also asks us to be there as much as we can.

Some of us will be able to connect more and see more positively, that is wonderful. Ultimately, we need space and compassion both giving them to others and taking them for ourselves.

You might reasonably think you don't need to be any part of it, but we all need you as part of us. We need to understand and try to feel the pain of loss for every person in every situation. We might need to rest and withdraw now and we need to find solace, but our journey must continue albeit broken and diminished not as we expected. Like leaving Egypt, hopefully finding some comfort in each other, and Hashem.

Remembering with Love:

Batya bat Harav Yaakov Yechezkel

Yakir Yamin

David Ben Sarah v’Yair