By Larry Gordon

Rav Adin Steinsaltz, zt’l, wrote at the beginning of Sefer Sh’mos that while the sefer is mostly about the enslavement and ultimate freedom of the Jewish people from Egypt, it is precisely that narrative that governs our very lives on a daily basis.

Exile and redemption is the story of the Jewish people but also the pattern of our everyday lives. And that, according to the Rav, applies to much more than just our Passover observance.

Our daily existence is governed by a similar design. Throughout any given day we can experience—and do experience—a series of ups and downs. The disappointments are analogous to exile and the triumphs that hopefully follow are very much like redemption itself.

Your child can be struggling in school and feel down on himself—that is exile. Later in the year he has a turnaround and begins to excel—redemption. You make a deal in business that does not work out as you anticipated—exile. Then things begin to improve and the details of the deal begin to look good—redemption. More profoundly perhaps, you son or daughter is in shidduchim and there is nothing happening—exile. Then he or she meets his or her bashert—redemption.

So it was with the more than 200 years of enslavement of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt—really and truly a textbook exile. Then we were liberated, and to this day we celebrate that historical event and await the arrival our final deliverance and true redemption.

Now, one year later, we can look back at the last year and identify it as one that was an exile wrapped inside a deeper galus. It was a year unlike global civilization has ever experienced before. A year ago, we were still trying to figure out how to deal with the coronavirus in the context of yom tov. To play it as safely as possible, it was vital and important to shelter in place.

It was a time even before outdoor minyanim were consented to by local government and our local leadership. In order to minimize or even try to cut off the wild spread of the virus, we were advised to stay away from one another, which was described in a kinder and gentler way as socially distancing from one another.

But we were heading into yom tov, a time when it is traditional for families to gather and celebrate together. Crazily, and unfortunately, to do so would be putting our lives and the lives of others in danger. We were all desperately trying to adjust to something new and unprecedented. Newlyweds, some with infants and others with one on the way, were urged to remain isolated and at home for the chag.

{IMG Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender.JPG

{Caption: Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender

“It hurt me in a very fierce way to have had to tell people living alone that they would have to have a Seder alone,” said Boruch Ber Bender of Achiezer. But he adds that last year there was just no option, and we did not know what we were dealing with at that point, which required maximum caution.

“But I’m looking around this week,” Bender says, “and the contrast between last year and this year is just unbelievable.” He adds that while the situation is dramatically improved there still are cases, and if people have symptoms they can now go to the hospital and be treated and in most cases recover.

{IMG Legislator Howard Howard J. Kopel and Denise Ford secured funding to purchase a new much needed Ambulance for Hatzalah of Rockaway & Nassau

{Caption: Legislators Howard J. Kopel and Denise Ford with Rabbi Elozer Kanner

For members of Hatzalah we spoke to, being on call this year compared to last year was a complete turnaround. They are still wearing protective equipment, but that is simply a smart and prudent way to proceed and the protocols will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Not to dwell on last year too much, but even Boruch Bender admits that it was a frightening time for everyone involved. No one was sure if they were carrying the virus or not. Conventional wisdom at the start was that if you had no symptoms you were probably OK and were not infectious. But that quickly changed and complicated things very significantly. Shortly before Pesach, medical authorities announced that the greatest danger was people without symptoms shedding the virus and infecting others, including people who had other conditions like asthma or diabetes, which made them particularly vulnerable.

As you will recall, it was around this time last year—Pesach was a bit later last year—when professional sports shut down. Additionally, people were seriously ill and there were new patients being admitted to all hospitals on a daily basis. The hospitals were very close to a point where they would not be able to accept additional patients. The therapeutics consisted of guesswork, and we were still half a year away from anything resembling a vaccine.

As yom tov was arriving, Achiezer informed local leadership of the difficult protocols that were being put in place. More than a usual number of non-Jews were hired and on call to deal with the bodies of those who would succumb to the virus over yom tov. He says that a refrigerated facility was set up over yom tov in which to store a niftar if the occasion arose. It was needed twice over last Pesach. It was a very difficult time.

Today, as we once again head into Pesach, the situation has vastly improved. Here at home our shuls are open, though with the outdoor temperature slowly climbing into the fifties and sixties, outdoor minyanim are slowly coming back and attracting more people. Some shuls still have restrictions and that, in part, has spurred some of the continued interest in outdoor minyanim.

So while the sight of properties with tents visible in driveways or on front lawns may have been reduced over the cold winter months, some of these structures are being brought back for at least another season or so.

Earlier this week I was copied on a note from Dr. Naftali Gross at the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. The short piece stated that this year he feels the sense of freedom that we celebrate on Pesach more than any prior time.

“This is my last shift in the corona department at the hospital,” he wrote. “The last patient is being released and the department is being closed.”

He states further: “I don’t know why it was decreed upon our generation to fight this war, but I know that we wrote a chapter of history together.” He added: “We will tell our grandchildren about this difficult period—about the brilliant and astonishing exodus from darkness into light in our time.”

Rav Kook, he says, writes that the Exodus from Egypt has not ended and that it must always continue. Rav Kook says further that “the Exodus from Egypt will eternally remain the springtime of the entire world.”

Dr. Gross finishes his note by saying, “I leave the corona department and go outside, breathe deeply, and feel that springtime has finally come at last.”

Stay safe and healthy. We were in a deep exile, and now we see redemption and wait for an even greater redemption, may it happen soon. Chag kasher v’sameach to all.

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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