Passover is coming! I’m actually looking forward to this second chance at the pandemic seder. Sounds crazy, perhaps, but the rabbis in talmudic times believed in second chances, and this is one of them – an opportunity to make a smaller holiday experience meaningful.
The second-chance concept has a long history. Have you ever noticed Pesach Sheini on the Jewish calendar and wondered? Well, a month after Passover started, there was a second opportunity. Those who’d been impure (interacted with a corpse, for instance) or been on a distant journey, could still potentially sacrifice the Paschal lamb at the Temple on this second Passover date.
This second Passover was not a huge, inclusive repeat opportunity. The Jewish community was required to plan ahead. It wasn’t acceptable to say, “Oops, I missed #1, so now I have a free do-over.” The only opportunities to do Pesach Sheini were spelled out very clearly. Most of those who messed up the first time weren’t eligible for the second round.
Planning ahead for the Passover sacrifice was spelled out in the Talmud. It struck me as interesting because, even now, like many big Jewish holidays, Passover requires a ton of planning. Even when the Temple was standing, one had to “register” to sacrifice a lamb. For Passover, everyone needed to do it, so imagine that version of old-fashioned registration, long before curbside pickup, cellphones, computers or online platforms came on the scene!
We all know many people who are more “in the moment” and aren’t good at the planning-ahead parts of life. Whether it’s a holiday, a big winter storm or a pandemic, some people are just better able to prepare in advance. This isn’t a modern issue, it’s a human one. It’s something akin to Aesop’s poem about the ant and the cricket. While the cricket sings and dances away the summer, the ant prepares for winter.
In some ways, my household was oddly ready for a pandemic. To clarify, no one is really ready for emergencies like this. However, our household had an odd assortment of skills that allowed us to make the best of a difficult situation. I’m not making light of the situation, not at all – having lost a relative during this time, we know the virus means business. Even with such a serious challenge, however, it’s possible to see things that worked out.
For one thing, I’m married to a biology professor. Although he scared the pants off me in early 2020, I can’t say I wasn’t warned about what might happen as the coronavirus spread. It gave me an early warning system that worked, although it was hard to manage my anxiety at the beginning, too, since no one else seemed as alarmed.
We might have been practically prepared in some ways. We have always tried to eat carefully, with homemade local foods. We had full freezers. Our canning closet was stocked with homemade jams, pickles, and more. We had homebody skills, too. I’ve been making bread (and not just challah!) for years. We were fine in the food department.
The transition to learning and staying at home involved screaming, upset twin 8-year-olds at first. Again, though, we felt oddly lucky. I used to be a teacher and, while that never involved grade school students for anything other than religious school, we got into the swing of things. “Once a teacher, always a teacher” is apparently true. I wasn’t swayed by the screaming – I taught high school and community college in urban U.S. environments, where occasional weapons (and screams) weren’t unusual. I’ve figured it out. We’re still voluntarily remote schooling. It has worked for us.
We’re also mostly introverted. As creative folk, our stash of things to do has kept us sustained. There’s been lots of reading, as well as sewing, knitting, weaving and spinning, as well as coin collecting and building with Lego, and we’ve made good use of the kids’ art supplies. We’ve felt well-occupied.
Yet, the story of “second Passover” and planning ahead struck hard these past few weeks. We had a serious issue with our car. Then our boiler needed repairs during a frigid part of Winnipeg’s winter. And our hot water heater needed replacing.
When the weather began to warm up, we glibly thought we’d solved all the hard stuff. Whew. Never think that! On a Sunday evening, my husband went to the basement to get the dog food. He heard a trickling sound. In short order, he was dismantling part of the basement. We had a radiator pipe that froze and then burst as things warmed up. This cued yet another round of emergency plumbers’ visits during a pandemic, with the kind of repairs for which you just can’t plan ahead.
All this led me to thinking about our second, upcoming pandemic Passover. Passover is always a home-based holiday. We can make plans. We can save up and attempt to make everything work. Yet, some things are like the Yiddish saying, “Man plans. G-d laughs.” Even so, we keep trying. My parents in Virginia have already told us that they plan to join us (via Zoom) for the first seder. Our twins seem surprisingly motivated to clean up a mountain of toys, as we tidy the house before the holiday. We’re getting ready.
These days, Jews mostly don’t observe Pesach Sheini, but I’m really hopeful about enjoying another “first” Passover while apart. For months to come, a continuation of the Purim “everything’s upside down” spirit will be normal. We’re not done with this pandemic yet, so we must both plan ahead – and be grateful for flexibility and all these second chances.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.