Seders and Social Distancing

This year, our seders will have much more in common with the first Passover meal.


PassoverApr 1, 2020

PassoverApr 1, 2020


Modern Passover Haggadah on a festive Seder table. (Image: © Bigstock)

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Passover is quickly approaching. While this means typically large celebrations at our seders with family and friends, this year is different.

The worldwide response to the COVID-19 outbreak includes isolation and social distancing as solutions to the danger of the modern “plague.” With these measures in place, there will be no larger seders. We’ll be gathering together in our homes, most likely surrounded only by our most immediate family members, sheltering in place as we recall the exodus and the miraculous redemption. As we ponder this new reality, a thought emerges—isn’t that the way it was at the first Passover?

Think about it. Strangely enough, Passover in its original context was all about social distancing:

Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Exodus 12:22-23)

Here is the paraphrase: I want you to stay inside, away from the people of Egypt. Something bad is out there, and it can kill you. Know that I am with you, and you will be protected if you do what I say.

On a more spiritual level, God was calling his people to separate from the Egyptians, specifically from idolatry. It is particularly important to note that God stated in advance why he was bringing these plagues:

The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” (Exodus 7:5)

He was going to get their attention.

COVID-19 has gotten everyone’s attention. We’re all affected in some way. We can no longer attend sporting events, go to the movies, or enjoy a concert. For some of us, our employment has been put on hold, as we can’t gather at work. The economy has stalled as the markets react to uncertainty across the globe. Our church and synagogue services have moved online, and every day we hear of the new number of cases and, God forbid, deaths from this modern-day plague. These are uncertain times.

How much more unsettling must have been the time surrounding God’s work in Egypt? It is quite the understatement to say that water turned into blood, total darkness, devastation on crops and livestock, and the culmination of the death of the firstborn were merely uncertainties. I might have wondered if God were in charge at all during such a terrifying time!

Yet, he was. He always is. He always will be. Amid the uncertainty, he has a plan that is executed to perfection.

Everywhere in the world, society is preoccupied with self. It is not a stretch to suggest that idolatry is alive and well. Athletes and actors are given god status. Financial security and personal wealth are definitions of success in life. The institution of marriage and the importance of family are pushed aside as antiquated ideas. The world is suffering from an illness called egoism. It always has been but now more than ever.

I am not suggesting that God is pouring out judgment on the earth or that this is the end of the world. I have heard that from far too many people who should know better. The prophets spoke as God directed them to speak. He spoke to them; they spoke to us. It’s terrifyingly presumptuous for someone in today’s world to suggest they know the mind of God. I am not a prophet, and yet, I confidently suggest God is doing something.

With nothing more than a microscopic infectious agent, the Master of the Universe has brought our world to its knees. However, rather than judgment, might it be an act of chesed, of kindness? Knowing that people have died from this terrible virus, please understand that I don’t make that statement casually. This pandemic is a tragedy, and at this point, it is far from finished. Still, we should make sure we don’t miss the potential message.

In the Passover story, only the ones who heard the instruction and listened, who took the required action of putting blood on the door and staying inside, survived. God can call all day, but if you refuse to listen and follow, you miss the blessing and the protection. Some Egyptians were saved. That means the message was for any who would listen. Let’s not miss the message now.

God is calling us to appreciate the simplest things in life—family, friends, employment, his remarkable provision and blessing that we take for granted. It is a reminder to appreciate a hug or handshake, the beauty and power of a smile exchanged in a face-to-face conversation, and I don’t mean a videoconference. To understand the true blessing of standing side by side with our fellow disciples in our religious services every week, not being forced to “forsake the assembly” (Hebrews 10:25) for fear of transmitting a virus. We need him, and we need each other. It starts at home.

Our seders this year will be different. They will have much more in common with the first Passover meal. God ordered his people to stay inside while he did something important outside. He got everyone’s attention, Israel and Egypt. Inside the homes of the children of Israel? I’m not sure how much of a celebration took place. There was uncertainty, and I’m sure, some fear, not knowing how it was all going to work out. We can relate to that a bit more this year.

Nevertheless, we are called to celebrate a remembrance of God’s power and at the same time, his mercy:

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. (Exodus 12:14)

We have the benefit of hindsight that they did not have. We have seen God deliver his people time and time again, and I’m willing to wager we each have a story of how God has delivered us from trials in our own lives.

So, picture this. As the Israelites huddled together in their Egyptian homes, socially distanced from the world around them, the children of Israel had two things: God and each other—two things that in today’s world have come to be under-appreciated by too many. He was with them. No matter the uncertainty around us this Pesach, we are to remember that God protects his people. More importantly, he desires a relationship with us, and maybe, just maybe, he’s calling out to everyone right now to appreciate the divine connection and especially the human one. All the blessings in life are good, but we cannot let them be distractions from our service to God and our responsibilities as disciples of Yeshua to love God and love each other. Let’s appreciate this unprecedented time. Let’s see it as a time of family reconnection more than social distancing. Let’s still celebrate the feast with joyful singing, delicious food, and, most importantly, a sacred recollection of the miracles God performed for our ancestors and a future hope for the wonders he has yet to do.

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About the Author: Damian Eisner heads up Community Care for Torah Club at First Fruits of Zion. In addition to his work with FFOZ, Damian serves as the Messianic rabbi at Nachamu Ami Messianic Synagogue in Macon, Georgia. More articles by Damian Eisner