It is less than a week before Pesach. This time of year, the streets are normally abuzz with people driving to and fro, picking up groceries and other Pesach goods. This time of year, many are usually welcoming out of town guests into their homes or travelling to loved ones. This time of year, Ner Tamid is usually going through a deep clean, as we would prepare to welcome so many of you for the Siyum for the Fast of the Firstborn, for the many guests at our Second Night Seder, and for the many congregants and friends who would join us for services and classes over the holiday.
But alas, this year is not a normal year.
Though I, like many of you, am experiencing my fair share of fear and anxiety during this time, I am also feeling inspired.* Just about 3300 years ago, our ancestors also experienced a Pesach like no other – the very first Pesach. Then, like now, the streets were empty, as G-d had instructed them to remain at home. Then, like now, there were rumors flying in countless directions, providing comfort to none. Then, like now, there was anxiety in the air as our ancestors were preparing for an unknown.
Five days before Passover, the Jews were instructed to find a lamb and bring it into their home. We could easily imagine the scene, as there were was a mad scramble to find a lamb. I am sure, kind individuals stepped up to help secure a lamb for those who weren’t able to get one themselves. And that finally, after much chaos, a lamb was secured for all who needed one.
In addition to the practical challenge in finding a lamb during this chaotic time, there was also a physical risk. Lambs, were a revered god in the Egyptian world. Bringing a lamb into one’s home would be seen as a terrible affront to the Egyptian populace. For these reasons and more, many Hebrews refrained from finding a lamb. They knew this was G-d’s will but the expenditure was too high and the risk was too great.
There were other Hebrews, our ancestors, who found the courage from deep within and followed G-d’s command, and in doing so displayed more faith than they even knew they had. They fought their fears, their concerns, their demons, and forged forward, holding on to the flickering flame of hope and faith, and in doing so established themselves, at that moment, as B’nei Yisrael, those who would ultimately merit the redemption.
The day this great drama unfolded was Shabbos. It was the Shabbos immediately preceding Pesach, and it became known for all of time as Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos. Some commentators suggest the term “Great” is in reference to G-d’s ‘great’ protection over our ancestors on that day. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm argues that the greatness of this Shabbos is a reflection of the great faith and courage of our ancestors. Shabbos HaGadol – the day the Hebrew slaves found the greatness that existed within.
Crises are, by definition, challenging, They push us and pull us into uncharted emotional territory. We find ourselves experiencing emotions that we didn’t even know existed and that is frightening.
One of the greatest challenges of a crisis like this one is that there is so little we can do. There is no enemy to fight. There is no person to call for help. We just stay at home as much as possible and hope that we did not contract an invisible disease.
I, for one, never felt so powerless. I am accustomed to responding to problems with solutions and actions. But there are few solutions and limited actions to take, and I find that very challenging.
At the same time, there is a new experience that I find myself encountering – faith. New experience? Yes, new. You see, in Jewish theology, there is a fine line between faith and effort – where and when do we stop exerting our own efforts and turn to G-d? The answer, according to most classical Jewish thinkers, is somewhat elusive. We are never supposed to stop exerting effort, we are expected to do anything and everything in our abilities to change a negative situation into a positive one. Where does that leave room for faith?
Tonight and tomorrow is Shabbos HaGadol. It is the day that 3300 years ago, our ancestors found faith deep within themselves, faith they didn’t even know existed. For the first time in my life, I am finding myself forced to confront my inabilities like never before. But in that vacuum of inability, we have a choice – do we allow it to be filled with despair and helplessness or do we fill it with faith?
I choose to fill it with faith. I choose to close my eyes and imagine G-d’s warm embrace. I choose to submit myself to the knowledge that there are so many things – so many things that I normally fool myself to believe are in my control, but really are not. I choose to accept that I do not understand how and why but ultimately believe there is a higher purpose to it all. I choose to affirm that not all stories have a happy ending, but they do have a meaningful one. On this Shabbos HaGadol, I choose to have faith, and I invite you to join me in tapping into the unbelievably deep reservoirs we all have, and do the same.
There is still much to do. We have houses to prepare for Pesach, we have doctors orders to abide by, we have community members to look out for emotionally, physically, and financially. But in the void that has been ripped open by our current situation, in the moments of raw vulnerability that we are all experiencing, let us, like our ancestors before us, choose faith.
Wishing you a peaceful, healthy, and inspiring Shabbos HaGadol. Allow yourself to find and feel the greatness within. May we experience a great salvation speedily in our days.
With much love,
*If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or addiction recovery and concerned about managing during the holiday, please speak to your mental health provider. Feel free to reach out to me so we can discuss how you can best observe the holiday while ensuring that you remain healthy and well.