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Covid Responsa

Turning Loneliness into Solitude/ Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth

For many years I’ve been teaching the following Halakha of the Rambam (found also in the Talmud): “If one is alone [on Leil HaSeder], he should ask himself: ‘Why is this night different?’”. I never thought that Halakha would be relevant to so many people, myself included.

This year, in light of the Coronavirus world crisis, it would be very easy to answer the question: “Ma Nishtana?” Yet, the mere thought of having Seder alone is quite scary for many of us. Specifically on Leil HaSeder which is supposed to be a celebration of togetherness, the experience of loneliness is inconceivable.

I believe, however, that this specific Halakha can teach us a meaningful lesson for times of social distancing. Why is one supposed to “ask himself” and “answer himself” rather than just reciting the text? What is the point of self-questioning? What is the added value of this ‘game’?

Let’s consider the teachings of two Lubliner Rebbes to shed some light on one of the most fundamental principles of Leil HaSeder – questioning. It is no coincidence that the four sons in the Haggadah are ordered according to their ability to question. The wicked son is the second best because at least he has the courage to question though he is too impatient to wait for the answer. Hence, he is placed above the simple son. At the bottom of the scale is the apathetic son who doesn't know how to ask, since the key of Leil HaSeder is the courage to question.

Rabbi Tzaddok of Lublin explains the significance of questioning: “One should not just recite [the Haggadah] rather perform it in a fashion of question and answer… Since on that night one should experience renewal as if he, himself, was redeemed from Egypt and therefore he should feel…and it should not be merely a ritual”. The educational method of Leil HaSeder is based on questioning since that is the most effective way to feel and experience.

This lesson is even more significant for whoever is forced to do the Seder alone, and that is why there is an obligation for one to ask himself the four questions. In particular when facing the fear of loneliness on Leil HaSeder, one has the potential to experience self-redemption, turning the loneliness into solitude and fear into resilience.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger of Lublin explains in his book “Torat Emet”, that this is the essence of self-redemption: “The idea of slavery that exists today is when someone faces major challenges without the ability to see that Hashem is with him. If he thinks that he could help himself, this very experience is imprisonment. The essence of redemption and deliverance is when his eyes are opened to the divine reality so that he recognizes that God is with him when no one else can help him.”

Often, the fear of loneliness stems from our own insecurities. We are afraid to meet ourselves, preferring to be distracted by social scenarios that help us to escape from ourselves. Society is often a shelter for those who flee from themselves. Of course, Judaism places great emphasis on the importance of society, community and family. However, there are times at which it is important to be alone - an experience that might be very empowering in enabling us to celebrate our solitude.

Leil HaSeder is, by definition, a social event. We celebrate with our family and friends. This coming Leil HaSeder will be very different for many of us, and asking “Ma Nishtana” about Pesach may seem quite irrelevant in comparison to the other questions that we are asking about the dramatic changes taking place throughout the entire world.

I hope and pray that none of us will ever experience this again, but this year let us try to see it as a tremendous opportunity for growth and demonstration of our complete faith in G-d. Let us enjoy hosting the most important guests for the Seder – ourselves and Hashem!

Solitude can be a positive state that provides time to reflect, create and discover our own character and the journey we want to take. We can let go of our fears and let G-d be with us at the Seder table. It is a very real opportunity to celebrate this very profound experience of solitude and self-redemption, so let’s embrace it with both hands and approach Leil HaSeder this year with courage, resilience and an endless amount of faith.

Wishing us all, a healthy, meaningful and happy Pesach!

Rav Ronen Neuwirth, formerly Rav of the Ohel Ari Congregation in Ra'anana, is author of “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age”, to be published in May by Urim Publications.


Summary of Halakhot for Pesach – Part II / Rabbi Ronen NeuwirthSpecial Halakhot considering the Coronavirus


• The entire world is facing a challenge that we have not seen in our lifetime as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. In the current situation, we are all soldiers fighting in this global war and our main weapon is "social-distancing".


• According to the Halakhah, "Chamira Sakanta MeIsura," - “physical danger is more severe than halakhic prohibition.” Therefore, the maain halakhic consideration we need to take in account is to safeguard our lives and those around us.


• For this reason, any stringency that might cause us to spend more time in the public sphere should be avoided. We should be more stringent regarding Pikuach Nefesh. This is true for gathering for prayers, unnecessary shopping in the supermarket, for Tevilat Kelim, and of course for inviting guests to the Seder.


• Many have the custom not to use any products without a special Pesach Kashrut sign. Also, some have the custom to be strict about not using even Kosher Le’Pesach products, that were opened before Pesach. As mentioned, every shopping in the supermarket entails a factor of danger. Hence, this year it is possible to use products that MeIkar HaDin (according to the letter of the law) do not need special Pesach Kashrut. Of course, packages of Kosher Le’Pesach products that were opened before Pesach could be used, as long as they did come in any contact with chametz.


• These are the products that can be used without special Kashrut Le’Pesach this year: milk (which was purchased before Pesach), eggs, fresh fish, chicken or meat, spices without any chametz ingredients, olive oil, canola oil, soy oil or corn oil, frozen natural vegetables, coffee, cocoa, tea, honey, sugar, salt, smoked salmon and canned tuna, toothpaste, and any non-edible products.


• This year one should not go to any public place where Hagalat Kelim is performed due to the danger involved. The Hagala can be done at home and almost all kitchen utensils can be koshered.


• It is forbidden to do Tevilat Kelim due to the danger involved. It is possible to sell the Kelim to a non-Jew until it will be safe to take them to the Mikveh (hopefully in the near future). Selling can be done at the following link:

Another option is to do Hefker to the Kelim (make them a public domain) in the presence of three people. In our situation, Hefker does not need a physical presence of three, rather it can be done via a WhatsApp group or email.


• Even those who are strict about not selling chametz gamur (real chametz) should be selling it this year and not dispose of it, because of the concern about the availability of these products and the need to go out and buy them.


• The sale of chametz should only be done online this year and not in a physical encounter with a rabbi or an agent because of the danger.


• It is forbidden to burn chametz in the public space this year. Biur Chametz can be done by invalidating the Chametz using some bleach and then throwing it to the garbage.


• Ta’anit Bekhorot: It is possible to participate in a Siyum done via Zoom and to be exempt from fasting. Another option is to redeem the fast with Tzedaka. In general, due to the situation this year, it is better not to take any unnecessary risks and avoid fasting relying on any of the solutions above.


• Tasteless medicines do not require Kashrut Le’Pesach. Due to the condition, sucking tablets or syrups are allowed for use by anyone, when there is the slightest concern of illness.


• Tefilat Arvit can start before Tzet HaKhochavim, but the first cup of Kiddush should be practiced only after Tzet HaKokhavim (8:10 pm EST).


• There are different opinions regarding Hallel during Arvit when praying without a minyan. According to Rav Ovadia Yosef, it is permissible to say Hallel with Bracha even without a minyan, and one can rely on that opinion.


Thu, September 28 2023 13 Tishrei 5784