<em>Howwill we get through this? Wrong question.
But I need my mother for the seder. Or:
I lost my deposit for Pesach at the hotel. Or:
I have nowhere to go for seder.
We have become like the ancient, inadvertent killer, confined to a “City of Refuge,” separated from home and hearth.
We have become like the ancient metzora, leper-like, quarantined.
The condition of these ancient miscreants was not “to get through it.”
Healing needed to take place outside, away, beyond community.
It was painful to be separated.
Most of all, religiously.
What is the message?
Part of the message, to be sure, is instinctive:
Bear the burden together with the burdened (nos’ei ve-ol im chaveiro).
Pray for the community.
Within the rules of safety, reach out to others.
Remember Rabbi Levenstein. When a natural disaster struck faraway, in Japan, he chastised his yeshiva students for not feeling the pain there. He made the point: the “community” is worldwide, the community is everywhere.
The instinctive understanding to care for the community is, however, at best insufficient, at worst a diversion.
We approach the time of Dayenu, “It would have been enough.” For whom? For “us,” for the community.
But that is not enough.
It is not just “us” who must “get through it.”
It is not just humanity.
Not just the community.
Not just the communities in miniature, the minyanim.
It is also each of us.
This is a radically different matter.
What does this quarantine, be it mental or physical, mean for me?
What am I, as an individual, supposed to confront because of this worldwide virus?
What is the non-instinctive message?
The message that I, personally, must struggle to understand?
The isolation, the pain, the break from routine, the denial of prayer with the community, the prospect of death, the reality of people falling to this plague – this condition closes me in. It forces me to ask: What should this mean for my life?
If, G-d willing, I and all those around me do “get through it,” is my life then supposed to be the same?
Am I supposed to have learned nothing but survival techniques from this?
“Can a shofar sound in a city and the people not tremble?”
This metaphor from the Prophet Amos is suddenly seen for what it is: not a metaphor.
The cities tremble.
All around us.
This is not something just “to get through,” difficult as this is.
Is my life supposed to be the same? Perhaps the answer each of us will provide will not emerge quickly or even clearly.
And surely, if we do “get through it,” and G-d willing we will, we will feel an outpouring of gratitude.
But things cannot be the same.
If I am rescued from a bad car accident and then am overwhelmed by gratitude, I will not care to reexperience the accident. Nor, to be sure, will I ever want to reexperience this plague, but it will stick with me. It will change me. It is not like a car accident.
Because it is forcing me to ask: What in my life needs to change?
Where does my enforced condition of loneliness (relative or absolute, depending on my city and family) guide me, in my search inside?
What is happening to me?
What should be happening to me?
The Talmud speaks of a person so lacking mentally that he cannot be wounded mentally (ein shoteh nifga). He can be utterly surrounded by difficulties yet be numbed, unaware, unresponsive. He can’t be touched. If our entire goal now is “to get through it,” what does that say about us?
A witness, it states in this week’s parsha, is someone who “sees” or “knows.” Surely this applies to each of us as we witness ourselves, as this worldlwide virus coerces us to look into ourselves.
We are called upon to be a witness. Who are we, as individuals, at this dramatic, unimagined, painful, frightful time? What do we see? What do we know?
And what do we pray for?
Each person will choose his or her line from the sacred writings that speaks to his or her soul. One phrase jumps out at me from the special Nishmas of Shabbos and Yom Tov. In a few words, it seems to sum up everything:
“Redeemer and Rescuer, Provider of livelihood and mercy at every moment of deep trouble and anguish.”
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