Ma Nishtana Hashana Hazeh? Why is This Year So Different Than All Other Years?

This year is different. On Pesach, we are accustomed to ask questions. “Why is this night different than all other nights?” This year, I think we can extend that and ask, “Why is this year and this Pesach different than any other Pesach?”

In our lifetimes, the collective tzibbur has never experienced anything comparable. People are in a panic. Every day, we hear about another bitter besurah. So many of us are in quarantine. We cannot go out, we cannot properly prepare for Pesach, and married children cannot be with their extended families.

Think about all the elderly people who are being forced to make Pesach alone. Many of them are widows and widowers, all alone in their homes, without anyone to even ask them the Ma Nishtana.

Every year, in my article before Pesach, I try to focus on a positive message depicting the beauty of Klal Yisroel as we come closer to Hashem with ahavah, embracing Hashem the way we prepare for Yom Tov and keep Yom Tov. Today, despite the fact that there is no shortage of beautiful things to focus on in Klal Yisroel, I am feeling inadequate. This isn’t a normal situation. What does Hashem want from us?

There are so many answers, but no single answer, and that itself makes it so difficult.

We all daven from the very depths of our hearts that by the time you read this, we will have turned the corner and the mageifah will be waning, but at the time these words are being written, the mageifah is running rampant and stretching our system beyond its limits.

Being Melameid Zechus on Yidden

We all grew up reading stories about the holy Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the great melamed zechus and advocate for Klal Yisroel. We know the story of how on Pesach, he was able to get his hands on any contraband prohibited by the Russian czar, yet no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get his hands on even one crumb of chometz. Turning to Hashem, he used this as the ultimate limud zechus on Klal Yisroel. “They are not afraid of the penalty of death, but because You said, in Your Torah, that it is forbidden to have chometz in their possession, not one Yid is violating that commandment.”

Perhaps we can look at Klal Yisroel as a whole and observe how they are trying so hard to observe Pesach while under the scepter of a mageifah that causes death. Look at how Yidden are helping each other, shopping for each other, and trying to make sure that families under stress and duress can make it to Pesach. Even while everyone, on their own, is in such a stressed state, they are still transcending themselves for others. Is there any nation like Klal Yisroel?

The Aveirah of Mordechai Hatzaddik and its Relevance to Us

Another thing I can’t stop thinking about is a thought expressed by the Tiferes Shlomo, the first Radomsker Rebbe. He writes in his sefer something that I think is so appropriate for today. In Megillas Esther, the posuk says, “Vaya’avor Mordechai.” Chazal tell us that the word “vaya’avor” means that Mordechai was oveir an issur. He transgressed a commandment. How so? As a result of Esther’s request, Mordechai declared that the entire Jewish nation should fast for three days, and those days came out on Pesachi, which basically meant that Klal Yisroel did not make the Seder. The Tiferes Shlomo asks: Why couldn’t they at least have waited until after the Seder? Why did he specifically insist that the days of fasting start at the beginning of Pesach?

He explained that we have no idea what nachas Klal Yisroel gives to Hashem with their avodah on the Seder night. The simcha that permeates the celestial worlds when Yidden gather and perform all the mitzvos of the Seder night with such chavivus is impossible to depict. Fathers and grandfathers fulfilling the mitzvah of relating the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim to their children with such love and energy, Yidden eating matzah with such love of Hashem and maror with such holy fervor, and Yidden saying Hallel with such a sense of gratitude and pure love are things that Hashem, as it were, anticipates with such wonderful expectation every year.

The Tiferes Shlomo writes that Esther understood how much nachas Hashem had from the exalted avodah that Yidden perform on the night of Pesach. Thus, she davka insisted that the Yidden fast on the night of Pesach. When Mordechai and all the Yidden in Shushan did not engage in the avodah of Pesach night, writes the Tiferes Shlomo, “there was a tumult in all of the celestial worlds: ‘What happened to the beautiful avodah of Yidden from which Hashem had such nachas?’”

Only the next morning, the morning after the Seder, did Esther Hamalka go to plead her case to Achashveirosh. The Tiferes Shlomo explained that Esther, in her wisdom, was trying to arouse Hashem’s mercy for Klal Yisroel by saying, “Ribbono Shel Olam, look how a Pesach appears without the avodah of Your holy nation! If Haman’s evil plan will succeed, there will be no more Seder night to give You such a nachas ruach. There will be no more mitzvos. That beautiful avodah of the Yidden that is kulo ahavah, showing how deeply they love You, will no longer be here anymore.”

A Plea to the Ribbono Shel Olam

Hashem Yisborach, look at Your holy Yidden. They so deeply want to engage in the avodah of Pesach. They are in a panic! They are in such pain! They are home alone, without the comfort of their fellow Yidden, without the ability to say Hallel b’tzibbur, without the ability for grandparents and grandchildren to share the Seder together and give you such nachas, as the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim and all of the other hallowed minhagim of Pesach that are passed down from grandfather to father to son are somewhat suspended this year.

Please, Ribbono Shel Olam, look at your Klal Yisroel. Despite their blemishes, look at how much they want to serve You. Look at how scared and tired they are, and please, finally, tell the malach hamashchis, “Enough!”

May all of you and all of Klal Yisroel have not only a kosheren Pesach, but a freilichen Pesach, as well.