About twelve months ago, we observed Passover. I say observed because to say “celebrated” wouldn’t be quite accurate.

We still recalled the exodus from Egypt, asked the four questions, remembered the Messiah’s death, the inauguration of the new covenant. We still ate bitter herbs and matzah (though after about day 2, matzah is no celebration anyway), drank four glasses of wine, filled a cup for Elijah, and all the good stuff. But it didn’t really feel like Passover for a lot of people. Why?

Because we did it alone or nearly alone.

Maybe you had a seder in your home, but in all likelihood, it was just you and your immediate family—no relatives, friends, inquiring minds who wanted to understand this “Messianic Jewish” thing you were into. No opportunity to fill the room with boisterous and joyful voices, singing songs with words like “who knows one?” and “an only kid” (Maybe you did sing the songs, but without Uncle Irving’s off-pitch Chad Gadya chorus, it couldn’t be the same!) And the kids just didn’t have the same competitive fervor to find the afikomen when their little sister was the main challenger.

Then we counted the Omer amid great uncertainty in our world. Shavu’ot came and went with no all-night Torah studies surrounded by our fellow disciples and friends, sharing interpretations of the sacred text more uniquely as the night got later and later.

We endured the long, dry summer, mourning the destruction of the Temple, yes, for many, alone, reading the book of Lamentations with a new feeling of…well…lament—wondering if we would ever return to “normal.”

The high holidays didn’t seem quite as high this year as many people still participated “virtually” in the holiest day of the year (Ashamnu on Zoom just doesn’t pack quite the same punch!)

Warnings of a holiday surge of COVID-19 cases kept many people from latkes and lighting hanukkiyot.

We’ve never been as grateful for Tu B’shvat as we were this January. Finally, a holiday we could enjoy because it was safe to be outside celebrating the New Year for trees.

Then we made it to Purim. Celebrated this year in February on the Gregorian calendar, it’s always celebrated in Adar I or II on the Hebrew calendar.

In the Talmud, Ta’anit 29a, we read these words, “משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה” (Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simchah). “In the month of Adar, we increase our joy.” You know what? This year, it’s truer than ever.

One of the things that Adar’s increasing joy leads us to is the month of Nisan—the month of spring, the month of Passover, and with God’s help, the return to the seder table. We’ve been away too long!

Of course, that will depend on your comfort level and community policy toward gathering. It’s not over, and I’m not suggesting that everything is back to normal, but twelve months after hearing the now-dreaded words “COVID-19” in Jan/Feb 2020, there’s a feeling of hope and optimism blooming like the soon-to-appear North American spring flowers.

Here are a few positives we can glean from an overwhelmingly negative past year, and hopefully, if you’re planning a seder, increase the seder-table joy.

This year, as we recall the plagues in Egypt, we’ll have a bit of added connection after the experiences of 2020. As we consider Israel’s bondage, we’ll have some new perspective on not being able to leave our homes. With just a bit more insight, we now can understand the true blessing of freedom as we celebrate zman cheiruteinu (“the time of our freedom”). Most of all, we can rejoice in the fact that God is “bringing us out” from this ordeal. It’s a bit dramatic, I realize. I’m certainly not suggesting that a year of COVID-19 compares in the slightest to 210 years in Egypt. I’m only trying to help us find reasons for gratitude. We certainly need some.

I pray that in your area, you’ll have the freedom to gather with friends and family to celebrate the Passover (and all the festivals for that matter), rejoicing, drinking those four meaningful cups, eating the bread of affliction (Did I mention I do find it afflicting?), sending the kids off to destroy the house in a wild afikomen search, and hearing your relatives sing their horrendous rendition of Chad Gadya. Most of all, we will celebrate once again the freedom we have, now and forever, in Messiah our Passover, hopefully with all the people you cherish most.