Contemplating Earth-Focused Judaism: Pesach and the quiet heart inside chaos

By Rabbi Gila Caine

Purim is always a hectic time, but this year it really overdid it. And now here we are in a world with around half a million ill and some 24,000 people dead from COVID-19. The economy has slowed, schools are shut, and people are losing their jobs.

Those who can are closed into their homes. I can go on, but you all read the news of chaos and suffering and fear roaming outside.

Over the past few weeks I’ve encountered many forms of fear. It takes shape as anger, confusion, impatience, sadness, or other emotions that arise when meeting the unknown. This of course makes total sense because a glimpse of what our world might look like to coming generations is not a comforting sight.

Just as our Purim of three weeks ago was a prelude to our Pesach, today’s chaos could be a prelude to creation. A friend wrote just this week: “Peace is not a lack of fighting, but the quiet of the heart inside chaos.” What does that mean? I’m looking to Pesach for an answer, specifically to the first one ever, known as Pesach Mitzrayim (the Pesach of Egypt). Its importance lies in that Bnei Yisrael chose to celebrate freedom while still living in a system of slavery. Huddling in their homes as Adonai called down vengeance on Egypt, they chose to leave the known – slavery – for the unknown freedom of the desert. I find the image of them in their homes at this moment very powerful, this image of closing in. Imagine what they might have focused on at that moment of Tzimzum (reduction, or, closing in) – perhaps on their loved ones, or the state of their body. Perhaps they were thinking about what they needed most to have with them on the way out. Perhaps they worried about their donkeys and goats and other animal companions.

Now a huge portion of humanity is going through a long moment of “Pesach Mitzrayim.” We are asked to stop and look at the chaos we’ve created outside with our greedy consumerism, our unethical economy, the way we zoom around non-stop with our cars and planes and boats carrying cargo and people from place to place. And the whole world is screaming to Adonai to put a stop to our slavery – our self-enslavement to stuff.

All of this is on hold as we go into our homes and ask ourselves, when we leave them, will it be back into a Mitzrayim of slavery, or into the unknown desert potential of sacred freedom?

Preparing for Pesach this year should be about this question: Where can we find quiet in the heart of chaos? Where can each of us find G-d and holiness (however you define and envision it) amid all this madness? What are each of you going to do so that the world we build after our current pandemic will focus on new life and true freedom?

Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Gila Caine is the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform Congregation.

The above column is part 3 of a series on Contemplating Earth-Focused Judaism. Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2   

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