Towards the end of last year’s Pesach, I wrote:
I had thought that today was the seventh day of Pesach, and was getting all psyched up for a nice bowl of pasta, when my friend and colleague Daisy pointed out that it’s actually only the sixth day.
But I’ve decided to eat some pasta anyway. Because this has been a really rough year…
I cannot put into words how much I miss being in synagogue. It’s my natural habitat. I want to sing with other people again. I want to pray with other people again. I want to read from a Torah scroll again rather than from Sefaria.
We’re told that the punishment for eating chametz is karet: spiritual excision, being cut off from the Divine. Frankly, I feel like I’ve been somewhat cut off from the Divine since last Pesach.
This terrible time will soon, please God, be over. But it’s going to leave its mark. I’ve lost a year of my spiritual life. And I want a way to reflect that, and to remember the pain of being cut off from the holy spaces I love.
So I’m going to cut a day off Pesach. One day for one year.
Maybe I’ll keep this up; I’ve been excluded from synagogue for well over 365 days, and even if I live to be 100, trimming one day off Pesach each year will hardly equal that. Maybe this is my way of saying that karet goes both ways, that the relationship isn’t one-sided.
For now, at least, I’m decided. I’ve stayed away from leaven for six days. I’m grateful to have been redeemed from Egypt and excited to be redeemed from lockdown. But my Pesach 5781 ends today.
Over the last year, things have improved massively. Synagogues have reopened. I’ve been able to cuddle a sefer Torah. I’ve sung with congregants. I’ve enjoyed latkes at kiddush.
But I am still bitter about all that time during which I was excluded from holy spaces, and I have indeed decided to “keep this up”, and to end my Pesach this evening, after just six days.
Here is a midrash I put together to explain:
וַיִּשְׁבְּתוּ הָעָם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי – And the people rested on the seventh day. Almost-Rabbi Gabriel says: do not read וַיִּשְׁבְּתוּ, rested, but rather וַיַּשְׁבִּיתוּ, caused to disappear.
What did they cause to disappear on the seventh day? Their observance of Pesach’s dietary restrictions, for the same word appears in relation to the removal of leaven: תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם – Make all the leaven in your houses disappear. This verse comes to teach us that the people observed Pesach for only six days.
Why did they do this? Because of the closure of their synagogues and the abolition of their joyous, prayerful singing: זְקֵנִים מִשַּׁעַר שָׁבָתוּ בַּחוּרִים מִנְּגִינָתָם – The elders have disappeared from the gate, the young men from their music. The closure of their synagogues: this refers to the great pandemic which began at Pesach in the year 5780. For the gematria of the words וישבתו העם is the same as for כשיש דבר – ‘at the time of plague’.
To what may this be compared? To a king who agreed with a band of minstrels that they could rehearse their music in his courtyard on condition that they abstain from drinking wine. One day, the king locked up his courtyard and the minstrels had nowhere to rehearse. They said to themselves: Why should we continue to abide by the king’s prohibition when he is depriving us of the music that warms our hearts? So they caused his prohibition to disappear, and drank wine.