Pesach began at sundown yesterday. Pesach is the celebration of that time when the Angel of Death passed by Jewish households when it spread calamity across Egypt. It also marks the joyful but speedy exit of the Jews from their captivity; in too much of a hurry to let bread rise. Ergo matzoh.
Pesach is a time for huge family gatherings around the table, recounting the whole story, eating (but nothing leavened) and drinking, talking and singing. This year, though, so different; no extended gatherings. No latkes for 20. No kitchens piled up with the food and wine brought by family and friends. Just each immediate family social distancing and asking the four questions as best they can.
Elijah will find many empty seats to choose from.
So today my entry for National Poetry Month is a poem about this holiday by one of my all-time favorite writers, Primo Levi. The second line is highly appropriate.
Tell me: how is this night different, from all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover, different from other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide, so the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew; under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us; let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction, the Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences, in which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed, evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting, far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine, the mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange questions: the wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course, today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth. Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat, and crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger. this year in fear and shame,
Next year in virtue and in justice.