April 9, 2021
It was just over a year ago that our San Antonio community confronted the realities of the COVID pandemic head-on. Some early adopters began changing their behaviors in mid to late March, but by this point in April 2020, San Antonio had retracted into virtual isolation.
In this extraordinary year, we have experienced disproportionate amounts of death, hospitalizations, and personal loss. We have felt the isolation and associated loneliness on a mass scale, and we have seen our daily routines change instantaneously before our eyes. In “normal” times change like this might occur gradually over decades or even generations, and we would wake up one day wondering when all this happened and reminiscing for the days of old. However, this year has been so unique that every one of us can easily recall specific behaviors or events we experienced pre-COVID, which no longer exist today.
It is common during times of change, and even more so during times of sudden change like this, that we find ourselves struggling between a sense of optimism and hope for what could be, versus an outlook of pessimism and a sense of despair of what is. Thankfully, our Jewish tradition encourages us to pursue the optimistic perspective, which has been our driving force in surviving the [too] many experiences in our history when our pain and suffering could have easily given us the justification to throw in the towel and simply say this is too much! Maybe it could have been during the destruction of our holy Temples, or maybe during the over 400 years of slavery in Egypt, or maybe during the more recent horrific events of the Holocaust, that our despair could have, or maybe should have, overcome our hope. But it didn’t, rather, “The Hope” (Hatikvah) became the name of Israel’s national anthem as a sign that, like the phoenix rising out of the flames, so too is our vision for a vibrant and promising future.
Maybe we don’t embrace optimism as quickly or eagerly as two of our Talmudic sages, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Nachum Ish-Gamzu, who approached life with their convictions that, “All that Gd does is for good” and “This too is for the best” mantras respectively. Yet, if we can find a way to possibly start with John Maxwell’s more contemporary words of wisdom “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional”, then maybe we can find a path out of these troubling times as we have throughout history.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, Aaron is faced with confronting the incredible pain of having just lost two sons. I cannot even imagine or comprehend his experience, just as I cannot conceive the pain of those who lost a loved one through COVID. However, it is through Aaron’s behavior following this traumatic experience from which we can find the strength to move forward. Although the pain and sorrow remained with Aaron for the rest of his life, his permanent ache did not define him nor his relationships afterward. Aaron was given one life to live, and it was his “silence” during this time, the sages teach us, that elevated his sanctity to priestly heights.
As we all begin to find our path out of our pandemic lifestyle, let us learn from Aaron’s doctrine that although we do not have the capacity to personally understand our neighbor’s pain nor struggle, we should nonetheless acknowledge that these experiences are part of who we are today. Further, we should each pursue our journey of growth and find our collective hope for a better future tomorrow.
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