As the days turn into weeks that we deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, it becomes increasingly difficult to even sense the normal progression of time. Early on, I remember seeing a Facebook post that stated, “I’ve had 14 meals and 6 naps and it’s still today.” Since I am basically not working, as working remotely is not possible for me, it is very difficult to have set routines, which may include morning rituals, commuting to work, meeting with co-workers, lunch-time meetings, visits to the gym, errands on the way from work, and maybe a date night with my wife. I have had a hard time even motivating myself every morning and figuring out what day of the week it is, what needs to be done, what can be done, and how can we keep our sanity, not to mention our health.
Then, one evening last week we saw that beautiful and rare “pink supermoon,” when the moon was unusually close to earth. It was so clear it reminded us of the wonders of the world and nature, and for a moment we briefly forgot that anything was amiss.
The fullness of the moon reminded me that we were approaching the middle of the Jewish month of Nisan and the arrival of Passover. It occurred to me that the disruption of time caused by the Covid-19 pandemic had been slightly eased by recognizing our Jewish calendar. Once Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the beginning of the month, arrives our tradition tells us to begin preparations for Passover by ridding our homes of chametz and preparing our special foods. And for the first time in almost a month, I knew just what I would be doing.
I knew that on April 8 by exactly 10:48 a.m. I would no longer be eating chametz. I also knew that at 7:12 p.m. we would be lighting candles with the family members who can safely be with us this year, that we would be having two seders over the next couple nights, celebrating Shabbat — with only four of us, but filled with meals, prayers, socially distanced walks, maybe naps, and some deep, soul-searching discussions of what this pandemic means to us and the world. The sense of structure I was lacking for several weeks was suddenly back.
The Torah reading for the first day of Passover — which, sadly, we couldn’t read in synagogue this year — was from Parshat Bo. It describes what occurred the night of the 14th of Nisan as the Israelites were to begin their exodus from Egypt and into freedom. If you had read a few pages earlier, you would see that the description of the plagues is interrupted by the first commandment given to the nascent nation of Israel, that of the Jewish calendar. Until then they had no concept of time; days were controlled by the taskmasters. Our ancestors enslaved in Egypt could not choose when to eat, rest, pray, celebrate, or mourn. The first commandment we received gave us the ability to do these things at the proper times and as stated in the Torah.
I heard someone say that “there will be no Passover” this year. On the contrary, no matter what Covid-19 has taken away from us, one thing we still have was given to us over 3,000 years ago: our Jewish calendar and holidays. My “suffering” — an inability to structure time — was eased with the new moon. I knew when to celebrate, what and when to eat, and when to pray.
As I heard our leaders in the medical community offer their best guesses as to how many days or weeks we will have to continue our isolation, we, as Jews, already know that in 49 days, we will celebrate once again, this time the festival of Shavuot. Our ancestors suffered as slaves when they didn’t have a say on how to structure their own time, and by giving them the ability to keep time and control their schedule, God restored their freedom.
These days are difficult for everyone. But we can appreciate that although we may have days, weeks, or even months of disruption ahead of us, the structure that was given to our nation with the first commandment will continue to guide us and ground us through these very troublesome times.
David Gleaner is a dentist in Bayonne. He lives in West Orange, where he is a member of B’nai Shalom.