Thoughts for Shabbat
We are pleased to share with you thoughts for Shabbat written by one of our students – Sabrina Zulman from Australia:
Every year on Pesach, we ask the famous question: Mah nishtanah halyla hazeh mikol halaylot – What makes this night different from all other nights? And whilst year in and year out we provide four distinct answers to this question, this year there was an undeniable difference. We celebrated this night amidst a pandemic, creating a Seder we have never seen the likes of before. Throughout the world, millions logged into their computers, sang along to Dayenu via Zoom, Google Hangouts or FaceTime.
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides a fascinating insight regarding the difference between Pesach this year as opposed to all other years. Rabbi Sacks suggests that at this time we are simultaneously experiencing loneliness that we have never known before – and yet, at the same time worldwide cohesion. Ever since Pesach Mitzrayim (when we left Egypt), we have celebrated the festival with our extended families, retelling the story of the Exodus around large tables. However, this year many families were isolated, celebrating this Pesach alone. Yet, at the same time, we have never been less alone. Every year it is us, the Jews who eat lachma anya, the bread of affliction, it is us who taste the maror, the bitterness of suffering. However, today the whole world is eating the bread of affliction and experiencing bitter suffering. The entire world is with us in Mitzrayim (Egypt), in the sense given in Psalm 118, “Min hameitzar karati ya”, meaning, “From the confinement, from my isolation, I have called to God.” We are all experiencing this eerie irony as we sing and call out to God, quite literally from our own physical isolation and confinement within our homes. The whole world is experiencing the penultimate plague, the plague of darkness, in which the Torah says “lo ra’u ish et achiv, v’lo kamu ish mitachtav”, meaning no-one was able to see their relatives or friends and no-one was able to leave their home – a feeling that we are all currently sharing.
Judaism cares about the suffering of others, even our enemies. Some say that’s why we spill a drop of wine when we mention each of the Ten Plagues. Rabbi Sacks explains that nowhere does it say that there is simcha, happiness, on Pesach, yet we wish everyone a Chag Kasher V’sameach on Pesach. Why? Because Pesach is a festival that commemorates our rescue from the heart of suffering, whether that be the suffering of our ancestors or the suffering of the Egyptians. And today, as we witness the immense suffering of the whole world, the themes of Peach are especially fitting. We reflect not only on our own suffering, but also on the suffering of others, and in this very fact is hope for a united and compassionate humanity.
And so, as we enter Shabbat and continue with the Pesach festival, I urge everyone to reflect not only on their own suffering, but on the suffering of others. Many of us had to cancel flights and trips with family due to this pandemic, and if someone had told me only a few weeks ago that I would be sitting here writing this Dvar Torah, rather than watching my Dad furiously cover every single visible surface with aluminium and pour boiling water over every pot and pan like a lunatic, I would have never believed them. Yet, as I write this, I am filled with a newfound appreciation and gratitude for my parents, as I myself have to experience all the Pesach preparation stress with my roommates. I was also filled with excitement and anticipation for my Seder with my apartment, and the incredible experiences that accompanied it. This year we share our affliction with the whole world. When we share our affliction, we have begun to be free human beings.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach to the whole Aardvark family and may everyone stay healthy and safe no matter where you are in the world. This year in Zoom, next year in Jerusalem!