Mah nishtanah? What has changed? is one of the questions the Passover Haggadah (story/prayerbook) asked us to consider, once again, this past weekend. A year into a pandemic, where does our list start? Yet, a year into a pandemic, we may be too fatigued to summon the will to answer. With the vaccine rollout in full speed, we may be more inclined to turn toward the light at the end of the tunnel. But are we ready to exit?
The Haggadah retraces parts of the story in the Book of Exodus: the Israelites enslaved to Pharaoh, God coming to free them, the ten plagues and, finally, the liberation. We eat matzah, dip bitter herbs in salt water and chew on eye-watering horseradish to symbolically taste the harshness and bitterness of slavery. It is a multi-senses experience meant to help one immerse oneself in the story and identify with its characters. Suddenly, it is all about us.
When Moses first came and told us of God’s promise of freedom, we couldn’t hear him, the Torah recalls, because of “shortness of spirit.” The Hebrew word for “shortness” is akin to the English for an electric short. We had spiritually short-circuited, disconnected. We had grown accustomed to our enslaved reality as our way of life — an abnormal “normal” to which we had habituated. We no longer knew we were slaves. And so, the plagues came. For us. To wake us up.
The plagues came. Of our own making. Massive fires, melting glaciers and polar ice, devastating floods and hurricanes, depletion of soils and desertification, societies breaking down, torn by war and gang violence from scarcity of food and resources, leading to mass immigration and, subsequently, to anti-immigrant sentiments and bloodshed. Far right parties and ideologies surged, as did antisemitism and racism. And then, a pandemic.
This past year, we have found ourselves stuck in our own “Egypt,” under extreme pressure and containment. But pressure and containment are also the ideal context for breakthroughs, for leaps in evolution. The movement for Black lives has awakened many of us from our habituated lives of white privilege. We have rededicated ourselves to democracy and democratic values these past elections. Nationally, globally, consciousness is shifting. But what about us? What have we learned? Have we taken advantage of this time of pressure and confinement, or are we just waiting for the vaccine that we might resume our lives as before, stuck in our habits, content with our worldview, human extinction be damned?
Yes, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. But, like the Israelites in our story, have we reconnected to Spirit yet, to a consciousness that knows our inter-beingness, in order to finally, truly, get out?
Read more in the Mar. 31 - Apr. 6, 2021 issue.