Healing Prayer for a Time of Pandemic

AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

May the One who blesses all life bless those who are ill with a refuah sheleimah – complete healing of body and spirit. May they find the strength to move safely through this time of fear and pain, dis-ease and uncertainty. May their loved ones find comfort through the love of their families, friends, and communities.

Let us faithfully support our health professionals who put their own lives at risk to treat their patients. May we do what we must to ensure that scientists and researchers have the resources they need to diagnose illness and prevent its spread.

Let us demand that our leaders and officials honor the public trust we’ve entrusted to them by prioritizing the health of our communities. May we forever fight for the well-being of those who are the most vulnerable in our midst: the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the uninsured.

And when this pandemic is over – may it happen bimheira b’yameinu – soon in our day – let us commit to building at long last a society that takes responsibility for the health of all who dwell in our midst.

Ken Yehi Retzoneynu – may this be our will. And let us say,

Amen.


Seder Readings for Passover 5780

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I’ve just finished “Fight for the Health of Your Community” – a new collection of Passover seder readings I wrote for members of my congregation. I’m happy to share them with the wider world as well – and sincerely hope you’ll find them helpful if you are holding/attending a seder this year.

It goes without saying that this year is a Passover like no other. As I wrote in the opening reading:

Before we raise the cup to another Passover, we must acknowledge that this night is very different from all other nights. In this extraordinary moment of global pandemic, we are literally dwelling in the “narrow place” of social separation. Thus, we come to the very first question of the evening: how on earth do we fulfill the mitzvah to observe the Passover seder? Where do we even begin?

Since the dictates of social separation render the group seders impossible, many families and groups are already planning to hold theirs’ via Zoom or other web-based platforms. There are already many online guides with tips on web-based seders that you may find useful. While I personally believe that there is no one perfect approach, I do recommend that seder leaders familiarize themselves with their specific online platform and to keep things simple and doable.

I want to stress that this particular resource is not a haggadah – and is not designed to be used in its entirety. I strongly agree with one online guide when it points out: “the seder should not be dominated by making connections of the virus to the Exodus story but it does need to be addressed in some capacity.” In this collection I’ve written one reading for each section of the seder and recommend picking and choosing the one/s you find most meaningful. While the extent to which COVID-19 is addressed will vary, I believe the most successful seders will be the ones that view the Exodus narrative as a spiritual frame to contextualize this unprecedented moment.

I wish you and those you love a happy, healthy and liberating Pesach. May we all make our way through this fearful moment together. And as I write here, “May this time of brokenness lead to a deeper solidarity between all who are ready to fight for a better world.”

Click here for a copy of the pdf.


For Passover: Opening the Door to a New World

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Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is meant to be recited at the point when the door would traditionally be opened for Elijah:

The door is opened and we say:

And when your children ask you what
was Passover like that year,
you will tell them:

Yes, we shared our meal at separate tables,
in separate homes, behind closed doors
and yes, at times it almost felt like we
were the Israelites huddling in the night
behind their painted doorposts,
hoping, praying that the Angel of Death
would pass them by.

Except it wasn’t like that at all:
there were no Israelites, no Egyptians
no capricious, punishing God;
just all of us telling the story together,
the way we did every year
even if we knew nothing
would ever be the same again.

Then when the time came,
we opened our doors wide
and called out from table to table:
Let all who are broken gather
each another’s scattered, shattered pieces,
let all who seek liberation
find a place at the table
let all who hunger for a new world
come and eat.


Before Karpas: A Flash of Green

weed-growing-crack_shutterstock_60868711Another excerpt from the seder readings I’m putting together for Passover this year. This one is an intro to Karpas (green vegetable dipped in salt water):

Keep looking out your window
even as the earth hardens into stone
even as the salt stings your eyes
even if it looks like nothing will ever grow again.

Just keep a sharp lookout
for that flash of green in the distance.
You won’t want to be looking away
when the message arrives at last:

Spring is coming.
It’s time dry your tears.
The season of our liberation is at hand.


Observing Passover in an Age of Pandemic

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I am currently working on a scaled down seder for Tzedek Chicago to use for Passover (via web conferencing) this year. Here’s a taste of my work in progress: an introduction to be read before the first component of the seder, known as Kadesh (the Festival Kiddish):

From the narrow place I called out to God, who answered me with wide open spaces. (Psalm 118:5)

Before we raise the cup to another Passover, we must acknowledge that this night is very different from all other nights. In this extraordinary moment of global pandemic, we are literally dwelling in the “narrow place” of social separation. Thus, we come to the very first question of the evening: how on earth do we fulfill the mitzvah to observe the Passover seder? Where do we even begin?

Let’s begin here: now more than ever, we must affirm Passover’s teaching that liberation is not only possible, but inevitable. We know from nature that spring will invariably follow winter. We know from history that the oppressed do not remain oppressed forever. So too, we know in our hearts and minds that one day we will eventually make it through this narrow place of pandemic and emerge into “wide open spaces.”

But as we also learn from our Passover story: this emergence never happens easily. It cannot happen without real struggle and hard work. We know that there will be causalities. We know, tragically, that the number of casualties is rising dramatically even as we gather together tonight. And while we know there is a new world waiting for us, we don’t yet know how many of us will make it there – or what that world will actually look like when we arrive.

For now, however, we do know this: like the Israelites of our story, we will not make it through without each other. So too, if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it is the lesson that was learned so painfully by the Israelites in our story: that we are all in this together. That my liberation is irrevocably bound up with yours. And that in the midst of the narrow place, there is no other way but forward.

So as we lift the cup to another Passover, let this be our blessing:

Blessed is the One who shows us how to stand together.
Blessed is the One who inspires us to show up for one another.
Blessed is the One who leads us all toward the wide-open spaces of a new day.


Psalm 14: Lines in the Sand

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In my weaker moments I imagine
that you sent this plague
as punishment for our iniquity,
but deep down in my heart I know
that’s not your way.

In fleeting moments of clarity,
I picture you gazing out at us
and ruefully asking out loud:

Don’t you know that I really don’t need
to inflict punishments on you?
Can’t you see you’re doing a pretty good job
inflicting punishments on yourselves?

Even now I’m astonished that
this terrible moment still hasn’t taught you
that no matter how hard you try
you cannot hide from one another.

Even now you cannot see
that the lines you’ve drawn
will not protect you,
that viruses care nothing for national borders,
that pandemics do not stop at walls
checkpoints and security fences.

I look on in wonder as the powerful,
your so-called leaders,
close the gates even tighter,
warning citizens not to congregate
even as they increasingly herd humanity
into prisons, detention centers
and refugee camps.

Even now I’m astonished
by the rampant ignorance of those
who still believe the absurd lines
they’ve drawn in the sand will
somehow keep them safe.

And now it has come to this:
you must sit closed up in your homes
keeping your distance from one another
that your communities might survive.

I can only hope that
in this moment of separation,
you will finally come to see
how connected you truly are –
for this may well be your final chance
to grasp the most basic of lessons:
that in the end,
you only have each other.


Psalm 55: Strange New Kingdom

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This prayer might be painful
for you to hear, but it’s all I have.
All I ask is that you listen to my words
and please don’t turn away:

A new and unfamiliar fear
has been growing within me.
Every day the walls close in,
every day the world bears down upon me
just a little bit more.

I’m staggering under the weight
of voices assailing me from every direction.
I’m unsure of what to do, what to think,
I don’t know what is real and what is false,
whether to stay in or venture out,
I can’t tell if my comfort is complacency,
if my worries are hysteria.

Every day I read of illness and death
and I dream of escape.
I see the birds building their nests
outside my window
and dream of flying far, far away,
to a place untouched by fear or sorrow.

Our leaders have utterly failed us;
they wander in confusion
without a care for our well-being.
I trust only in scientists and care-givers,
I depend only upon my friends,
my neighbors, my community.
I know we will only survive
if we care for one another.

How long will I dwell
in this strange new kingdom?
How many will be stricken,
how many will fall?
Will I make it safely
to the other side?

As I contemplate your familiar silence,
I realize I don’t really require an answer –
perhaps just the reassurance that whatever happens,
we’ll bear each other along the way
with kindness, decency and love
until our long sleepless night is through
and the warm light of a new day rises
to envelop us once more.