By Rabbi Mendel Matusof
As we move slowly, with G-d’s help, away from the traumatic and stressful experiences of this past year, I’d like to suggest that we don’t leave everything behind. We may have discovered throughout all the pain and isolation, that there were certain things we neglected or overlooked prior to 2020. These discoveries must certainly be taken along as we anxiously attempt to turn a page on the pandemic.
As always, we turn to Torah and its timeless teachings to discover a renewed relevance in 2021.
3,333 years ago, G-d redeemed our ancestors from bondage in Egypt, and we became a free nation. Ever since, Jews world over have been celebrating Passover, beginning with the Seder on Passover eve. While today the matzah is the centerpiece of our Seder, in the times of the Temple, it was the Passover lamb, symbolized on our Seder plate with a shankbone.
We would have expected that Pesach celebration would emphasize the “nation” motif, the idea of collectiveness and community. Actually, however, the approach and instruction were exactly the reverse. Each home had to have its own Passover lamb; each Jew was singled out and counted for the purpose of sharing in it; each one had to be confined to his or her particular home or company for the duration of the Seder.
In a letter written in 1964, the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed this issue. “Herein the Torah teaches us that the way to accomplishment, even if it is intended for the community, must nevertheless begin with concentration on the self, and on members of one’s family and immediate circle. It is precisely this approach that will eventually bring the deliverance of the individual as well as of the community.”
Let us take this lesson of Passover to heart. As we gradually move safely out of our pods, let us not leave our pods behind. Let us remember to invest more time in those closest to us. Let us extend our kindness and friendship beyond our pods but let's never stop cherishing and strengthening the bonds built with the people of our pods during the months of confinement.
Similarly, our focus is often global, our resolutions cosmic, our conscience universal, and our commitments all-encompassing. Throughout this past year, we all discovered in our own lives the timeless truth taught by G-d in the Torah and the lesson of the Pesach lamb. We need not discourage world-wide ambitions, but that’s not where our primary energy and focus must be. Calling someone to cheer them up, celebrating Shabbat with one’s immediate family, being there for a friend in need, and practicing Jewish traditions in our own home, these “little things” are the basis of Jewish life, and the foundation for making the world a better place.
May G-d grant that this Pesach we all discover a little more joy and freedom as we take this lesson from Pesach to heart. That we all increase in doing the little things in our pods expanding outwards, beginning with celebrating the Seders with our loved ones with attention to kosher, tradition, and our children. And may this hasten the true and complete redemption through Moshiach.
Rabbi Mendel Matusof was born and raised in Madison, received his training in France, Canada, Israel, and New York. In 2005 he and his wife Henya moved back to Madison to direct the Chabad activities on the UW campus. Under his leadership a new Chabad house on campus was established, Chabad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, serving the thousands of students.