It always feels a little strange to start reading the Exodus story in the middle of the winter; yet that is how the Torah cycle goes. Every January we are reminded that Passover and, indeed, spring, are just around the corner. But why is this year different from all others? Well, never before have so many of us been able to empathise with those on the receiving end of the ten plagues. Perhaps it takes living through a plague to understand the true pain it can cause. 

Every year, at our seder table, all those present spill ten drops of wine to recall the ten plagues that befell the Egyptians. Those ten drops are a symbol of mourning for the suffering of others, even if those ‘others’ wickedly oppressed our ancestors.
At our communal seder, after the traditional ten drops we follow a newer WLS custom. I invite all those at the Seder to name ten modern plagues, and, again we spill ten drops. I’m always a bit wary of inviting a room of 200+ people to shout out modern plagues. In previous years we’ve had everything from politicians to pet peeves. It can be amusing, it can be cringing and, at times, it can feel a little absurd, after all, are ‘selfie-snapping tourists on the Abbey Road’s zebra crossing’ really on a par with famine, modern slavery and antisemitism?
Returning to this most difficult of years, we hardly need reminding to acknowledge any extra modern plagues, so I’m tempted not to spill ten extra drops. Instead, perhaps we might consider the introduction of a new object on the seder table - an empty cup. After all, the filled cup of wine for Elijah is a symbol of hope. Likewise, the filled cup of water for Miriam is a symbol of life. So an empty cup would symbolise all those whom we have loved and lost during this terrible Covid-19 pandemic.
Quite frankly, there are not enough drops of wine in a bottle to convey the tragedy of this modern plague. Instead, in recognition of all the empty spaces at the seder table, including those once filled by our distant or permanently absent loved ones, let us place an empty glass at the centre of our table. In so doing, let us mourn for all that we have lost, and let us pray for all that we hope to reconnect with once this terrible plague is over.