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Plagues are More than Drops of Wine

My family's tradition is that when we read the part of the Seder that mentions each of the plagues in order, we dip our pinky finger in our wine cup, and remove a drop for each plague. After all ten plagues I would lick the wine from my finger. One reason we are taught that we do this is to realize that our joy (wine is the symbol of human joy) is diminished because of the suffering that the plagues caused. (That doesn't explain why we used the pinky - and certainly doesn't explain why I licked the wine off my finger - but to be honest, I loved that part. I really looked forward to the pinky wine each Seder.)

When I was younger, I often did not think about the suffering while I was dipping my finger. I knew that the Egyptians suffered, and I honestly did regret that. During that specific time of the Seder, the plagues were read quickly - we tried to keep up with the naming and the dipping. It made it feel like the plagues were brief, but the slavery was long and awful. 

This year I see the plagues differently. The coronavirus that is causing us to have a Passover like none I have experienced before. Tens of thousands of people have died of this plague in the world already. Hundreds of thousands have been infected.  We do not know when it will end. This is like a plague.

When my sons were very young, we invited people to Seders at our house. One year a virus caused us to un-invite guests. The boys got the Chicken Pox (it was about a week before the vaccine became available.) They were uncomfortable, but we knew a lot about Chicken Pox (having had it when we were children), so it wasn't so scary. We did stay home and had a simple Seder, and stayed home during all of Passover. Once Passover was done, the boys were not suffering anymore. 

Passover is always about trying to feel like we ourselves experienced slavery and escaped. The plagues were not inflicted on us. The slavery was. The symbols in our Seder remind us of all of the experience. Our suffering and theirs. Our uncertainty of when it will ever end... and now more than ever, we can see their uncertainty about the plagues as well. When only a few people were confirmed to have Covid-19 in Shreveport, it didn't seem so scary. Every week the numbers keep multiplying, and the indications of what it looks like in other cities is that the number of people infected here - and who die here - may be very large, it is getting very scary already. My family in NY says that everyone who lives there knows people who are infected and knows people who have died. I wonder if that is how the Egyptians felt when there were just a few frogs annoying them... and then so many that they couldn't walk without stepping on them or being jumped on by them wherever they went. No end in sight, and the frogs kept multiplying. We don't know that anyone died from the plague of the frogs. But we can relate to it being overwhelming. We can relate to how each plague started small and not scary - and eventually never seemed to end and became overwhelming. 

I don't know about you, but it seems like almost every conversation I have includes discussion about the virus. Also, every symptom anyone has includes a fear that it could be the virus. It doesn't help that it is allergy "season." It doesn't help that it is flu season. It doesn't help that we are cleaining for Passover, and finding nooks and crannies where we are cleaning dust and crumbs - and it makes us cough and sneeze. And it makes us afraid. Most of the time, a sneeze is just a sneeze these days, but we still worry.

We need to stay at home. When we go out we risk catching this illness, and we risk spreading the illness. It reminds me of the Jews who stayed at home when devastation was outside their doors - but they were safe. This year we experience the memories of slavery and confinement in a new way. 

We also will be experiencing the Seder in a new way. Many people will have significantly smaller Seders than before - fewer people at their table to cook for, at least. This year it turns out that, thanks to technology, in some cases families will share Seders who haven't been able to, because they live far from each other.

I like to see the blessings and holiness in life. There is a lot about this virus that is not a blessing, and does not feel holy. I do not believe that G-d is punishing us. I do believe that we can find holiness. Staying at home, trying to reach out to others - and staying safe while we do it, I think is a way to find holiness and blessing. Every day each of us stays home we are helping to save lives. 

The part of the Passover story that does not compare to our current story is the part about the current day heroes. In the Passover story Moses and G-d, with some help from Aaron got to be the heroes. Today, I do not have enough words to thank everyone who is fighting this virus - the doctors and nurses and hospital staff; the researchers; and lab techs working with the virus. The police and fire fighters and EMTs who sometimes are the first ones to respond to someone who is sick and needs help. The fact that they are trained to deal with illness and prevent spreading infections makes them heroes. I am worried about our dwindling protective resources for them and for others - including patients - where they are working and living. I worry about their families. 

I don't just worry about those heroes, I also worry about the heroes who weren't trained to be on the front lines, but who are standing there and saving us - including the hard working folks at the supermarkets and restaurants. We need to eat, and we need to get food and supplies, and they were trained to stock shelves, or wait on customers - and yet, they have taken on extra training and extra responsibility, and are making sure we are safe and can eat. That amazes me. I am very grateful.

I also am not shopping almost at all during these past few weeks. Fortunately we had to eat all our chametz before Passover anyway. I did buy some matzvah before the stay at home order. However, there isn't a lot of food at my house now. I am grateful for all of the stores and the efforts that they are going through to make sure that we can obtain our food safely.

After living through just a few weeks of this, I have a new understanding about plagues, and that experience in Egypt, when there were ten plagues. And we stayed at home. And we waited out the plagues. 

One drop of wine per plague has a very new meaning for me this year. 

Mon, November 30 2020 14 Kislev 5781