As we approach what will be a very different Pesah, I can’t help but think about our connection to the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, and the crisis we are all enduring. Mitzrayim has come to be known as a narrow, dangerous place. This idea of being in a narrow place reminds me of another metaphor written by the great Hasidic master, Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav. He wrote: “Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikkar lo lefached klal -The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.”
It seems strange at this time to write that one should not fear at all, as fear does prevent us from doing dangerous things and also alerts us to real danger. For instance, the real danger of COVID-19 compels us to stay home. After some research, I found that Rav Nahman actually said something different. In his work, Likutei Moharan (II:48), he writes, “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”
“Not to frighten yourself.” Yes, the narrow bridge is filled with risk and danger. Being cautious makes sense, but we’ll never get across it if we surrender to fears that may not actually exist, but that we imagine.
We need to be cautious when approaching danger. Right now, we need to stay home and quarantine. But, as Rabbi David Wolpe wrote in a commentary on this quote, “Rav Nahman would have approved of [President] Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Rav Nahman concludes this passage, which was written to encourage his followers, “You should understand the power of encouraging yourself, and never yield to despair, God forbid, no matter what happens. The main thing is always to be happy, to gladden yourself in any way possible.”
Whether it is leaving Mitzrayim or crossing a Gesher Tzar [narrow bridge] we cannot retreat. Instead, we need to find courage in the face of fear – albeit managed fear and uncertainty – as we forge ahead.
As we remain quarantined, we recognize that many people have it far worse than we do. We know that there are those out there risking their lives for us each and every day. Some of these heroes are members of our Schechter Kehillah, but that doesn’t negate the difficulty each of us faces managing our day-to-day work and home responsibilities, and most of all, our children. This very real pandemic is our personal and collective Mitzrayim, our Gesher Tzar. We are experiencing real danger, stress, and anxiety that cannot be minimized. But we will get to the other side.
When we sit down to our Seder and recount the Passover story, let the recounting remind us that we, as a people have been in Mitzrayim before; we have crossed narrow bridges and even in the darkest times, we held firmly onto hope. Even now, there is much to be grateful for. Let each of us share that gratitude with our loved ones.
As Rav Nahman wrote, “… be happy, gladden yourselves,” during this Passover season, for surely we will move through this danger and arrive on the other side, when we will be reunited, in person, with our loved ones, friends, and our precious Schechter Kehillah. May God send healing to all those who need healing and bless each one of us with health and the strength to endure this crisis. Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and Kosher Pesah.
Steve Freedman, Head of School