"The Holy of Holies" from the 1890 Holman Bible
"The Holy of Holies" from the 1890 Holman Bible

Passover in the Holy of Holies

This year as we prepare for Passover, there is a sense of sadness and disappointment. So many will be forced to celebrate the holiday alone without friends, family members or guests. This will mean going through the seder all alone in the quietness and stillness of their home.

Just thinking about this fills the mind and heart with the sinking feeling of loneliness and sadness. While it is certainly the right thing to do at this time to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it is still hard to imagine such a seder being joyous or moving in any meaningful way.

For so many of us the Passover seder is an annual highlight, a reunion of friends and family members. An evening filled with excitement and celebration. Dining room tables bursting with guests, delicious foods and family recipes. Songs, melodies and laughter woven into the reading of the haggadah, and hours of lively discussion that ensues. In the current situation some of us will be forced relive all this in our minds as we sit all alone thinking about the festivities of past years, only adding to the feeling of loneliness and longing as we make our way through the seder in the piercing silence of our home.

But perhaps a bit of perspective can empower us to make this year’s seder meaningful and moving, and even reclaim some of the inner joy that is available to us on this night.

For that, I turn to the climactic moment of Yom Kippur. Back in Temple times, the high priest would spend a full week in preparation for his Yom Kippur service in the holy temple and then spend the entire day of Yom Kippur itself together with his fellow priests in song and prayer. But the pinnacle of Yom Kippur was when he removed his golden ornaments and entered the Holy of Holies. All alone, he stood dressed in his simple linen garments offering a silent prayer in a private moment with G-d.

The liturgy of Yom Kippur describes the radiant and joyous glow emanating from the face of the high priest as he exited from the Holy of Holies. It was at that point that the Jewish people knew the blessings of the coming year had been sealed for good. This joy reverberated throughout the land of Israel. It is so striking that it was that single lonely moment in the Holy of Holies that provided that joyous connection and feeling of deep closeness to G-d.

Perhaps as we are compelled this year to celebrate Passover in a manner that is so similar to the lonely state of the high priest, we are also given the opportunity to feel that same joy and closeness he felt — not a joy from being surrounded by friends and family, but an inner joy that emanates from the feeling of a deep bond and personal connection to G-d.

In the midrash we are told, now that we no longer have the holy temple our homes are like a miniature temple. Indeed, the Holy of Holies was about the size of an average dining room. This year as we sit at the seder in our own mini-temple, we are empowered to appreciate that we are experiencing a high priest moment in the presence of G-d himself — focused, undistracted and connected. Certainly this has the power to awaken an inner sense of joy and appreciation for the gift of this relationship.

The Torah’s message is clear: We are never truly alone as G-d is always with us. Certainly this Passover, as we eat the matzah, drink the four cups of wine and enjoy a delicious meal, an inner joy will fill our hearts as we celebrate our Passover seder in our holy of holies in the presence of G-d. Enjoy the moment and certainly your heavenly guest will enjoy it as well.

Rabbi Gedalia Potash
Rabbi Gedalia Potash

Rabbi Gedalia Potash is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Noe Valley in San Francisco.