At this point, we are deeply familiar with the rabbinic understanding of sha’at d’khak, a time of crisis, and pikuah nefesh, the preservation of life—the mitzvah that pushes aside all other commandments. We are living these values as we practice social distancing, self-isolation and follow the mandate from governments and health experts to stay home and limit excursions to essential matters only.
Stay Home. Stay Healthy. We at Beth Tzedec continue to urge you to fully comply with local, provincial and federal authorities as we seek to provide spiritual nearness through personal phone calls and contacts, Zoom Minyanim, Coffee with the Rabbis, lectures, meditation, congregational school, adult education and a myriad of other opportunities to connect via video conferencing and electronic communication.
With regard to Pesah, we know that many have questions about how to observe during this sha’at d’khak. We will address them below and invite you to contact us if you would like more guidance.
Passover plans for most of us have been disrupted, causing personal and familial heartache. Nevertheless, public health measures require that we follow current guidelines, therefore, we must celebrate the seder in place, with the people in our households. These are extraordinary times, which is why we believe Jewish tradition understands and supports those who will choose to use electronic means to bring family and friends together for Seder.
Individuals living alone or those absolutely unable to prepare for Passover are encouraged to contact us directly and we will do our best to help you acquire what you need to enjoy a Passover seder.
Kosher for Passover
We should strive to clean our homes for Passover as we normally would.
Food providers tell us that there is a sufficient supply of Passover goods. If you are unable to procure kosher for Passover food and/or cooking or preparation items, we recommend refaining from food items that are specifically prohibited as hametz and use new items whenever possible (see the RA Passover Guide for more information).
Vegetarians and vegans are permitted, l’hathilah, from the outset, to eat kitniyot (legumes). In these times, only if other food options are not available, all are permitted to eat kitniyot. (This is one of the halakhahic opinions we were going to examine in the future. At this moment of crisis, if necessary, we are permitting it and will return to it later.)
In other words, for pikuah nefesh, we should simply do the best we can to observe the holiday to the fullest and not worry over those details that might not be possible to achieve this year during this crisis. As we do so, holding the kavanah, or mindfulness, of sha’at d’khak influences our understanding of these unusual times.
Normally, Yizkor is marked on the last day of Pesah. Since we cannot be together, and our Beth Tzedec custom is to not livestream Shabbat or holiday services, Yizkor will be held Tuesday, April 14 (the last day of Hol Hamoed) at 9:30 a.m., via Zoom. We will record Yizkor and make it available on the Beth Tzedec website and social media channels following the service.
The Sale of Hametz
Forms to sell your hametz to our rabbis who will sell it on your behalf may be found on the Beth Tzedec website. You can complete the form online, save it and email it back to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributions to Rabbi Wernick’s Discretionary Fund in honour of this mitzvah are especially appreciated at this time, as there are many people facing food insecurity that require tzedakah and these contributions will be earmarked to purchase food vouchers.
The Fast of the Firstborn
Following morning minyan on Wednesday, April 8 at 8:15 a.m., I will lead a siyyum (completion of a cycle of study) of Tractate Berakhot on Zoom. Join me for coffee and a bagel in the comfort of your own home as we celebrate this learning together.
If you need help with Zoom, or the phone conferencing feature that is available with it, there is a tutorial on our website.
Bidikat and Biur Hametz
The search for hametz takes place as usual Tuesday night, April 7, using the formula found in your Hagaddah. If you do not have a Hagaddah, see one of the resources we have made available on our website.
Traditionally, we use a candle, a wooden spoon and a feather to find even the smallest amount of hametz. If you don't have these tools handy, you can use any utensil or product in your home that accomplishes the same symbolism.
The burning of hametz takes place the morning of Wednesday, April 8, before 12:00 noon. The last eating of hametz is 11:00 a.m. Normally, we provide an opportunity for people to burn their hametz at Beth Tzedec. This year, we encourage our kehillah to do so at home using their barbeque, a metal trash can or in another safe manner. If that is not possible, then one may crumble the hametz and throw it into a flowing body of water or into a natural area where animals are likely to consume it, as in tashlikh, the casting away of our sins on Rosh Hashanah.
We will be posting a variety of Passover resources, downloadable Hagaddot, supplemental readings and the like for all ages on our website. Check back regularly to see what’s been added.
And join us! Share the shtick and supplements you will be using to make this Passover different from every other Passover. Send your materials, your internet finds, your family traditions, your pictures and more to Linda Marleny Dow at email@example.com, or tag us on Facebook or Twitter.
If you would like to learn more about the conversations surrounding the halakhic questions around COVID-19, the Rabbinical Assembly has an excellent Q&A section on their website.
As others have noted, it is indeed ironic that a "plague" is drastically modifying our Passover celebrations. Passover is our master myth. Just as God redeemed our ancestors from slavery in Egypt, so too will God redeem us from COVID-19. Our ancestors stayed in that night and placed the blood of the pascal sacrifice on their doors. We will stay in the night of our seders, stepping back from our traditional family and social experiences. In so doing, we too will be redeemed.
And God willing, when this passes over, and it will, we will have played a role in redeeming the world.
We pray that each of us celebrates a meaningful, safe and healthy Passover and that God will bless all humanity with health, happiness and shlaymoot.
Rabbi Steven Wernick
and the Beth Tzedec Spiritual Leadership Team