My favorite sentence in the Passover haggadah is “Mah nishtana ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-leilot – How different this night is from all other nights!” I know this line and the sentences that follow it are often referred to as the Four Questions, but this isn’t a question at all and what follows are not answers. Rather, this line from the Mishnah is an acknowledgment that something is different, and the sentences that follow it point out rituals that are novel or surprising about Passover.
The rabbinic tradition is that even a person alone at a seder must recite this line: we are meant to notice and describe what is new and different about Passover. What is normal for Passover is to point out what is unusual! As we confront COVID-19, which requires all of us to practice physical distancing, we will experience a vastly different Passover this year, and not just because we are reclining at the table. We are fortunate the early sages gave us the language to acknowledge how different this night is, to consider what is unusual about this situation, and to name it. As we arrive at this line in the haggadah, I will encourage my family — those around the table and those joining us virtually — to add their own words to the script, to acknowledge our new normal and celebrate our strength and resilience.
Rabbi Pamela Gottfried serves Congregation Bet Haverim and Your Jewish Bridge. She is sheltering in place with her family in Sandy Springs.