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A new reality

2020-03-16 03:30:18 PM


Rabbi Boris Dolin

I have never been a morning person, but it has been especially hard to wake up the past few days.  Living through this pandemic, each morning brings more bad news, new regulations, and an unbelievable shock to know that this is the new normal of our world.  

Unsure about what each day will bring, and for better or worse tied to my phone and the internet, everything just seems so crowded and confused.  It is difficult enough just to deal with the practical side of trying to work from home while helping keep my three kids busy, but the mixture of cabin fever, anxiety and simple uncertainty is finally beginning to settle in.

And I know that I am not alone.  It is a very real fear that grips so many of our minds when we wake up each morning.  No, this is not necessarily the fear of the impending apocalypse just yet--toilet paper shortages notwithstanding--but it is a fear brought on by the most powerful sense of simple bewilderment. This must be a dream!  Things aren’t really as bad as they seem! I am stuck at home another day?! Seemingly every news story is about the pandemic, and it has touched all parts of our society. There is no way to escape the pace of all the changes.

It's hard to believe that it was only a week ago that we were celebrating Purim.

In this new reality, I know we are all doing our best to try to hold on to some sense of normalcy amid all the confusion.  We are finding new ways to entertain ourselves and keep busy. We are “Zooming in” for classes and events, reading more, or watching more TV, and even taking on new hobbies or trying out new recipes.  (This week my family is going to make homemade pasta-I knew we’d eventually get to breaking open that pasta maker from our wedding!). It is not the end of the world, but it is definitely the end of a certain reality that we thought we could rely on.

Yet we still go to bed at night, and hope that the next morning will bring something better.

I am reminded of the Hashkiveinu prayer that is said as part of the evening prayers, and often as part of the Bedtime Shema said before a person goes to sleep at night.

Lay us down, God, in peace, and raise us up again, to life.

Spread over us the shelter of peace,

Guide us with Your good counsel.

Save us for Your name's sake.

Shield us from every enemy, plague, sword, famine, and sorrow.

Remove the adversary from before and behind us.

Shelter us in the shadow of Your wings,

Guard (our going out and our coming in, and grant us life) and peace, now and always.

This prayer, more than so many others, highlights a very real fear that is inherent in this act of going to sleep.  We have to remember for the rabbis who wrote this prayer, that they did not live in a stable world.  Their world was one that was truly filled with sickness, with war, with violence and a difficult mystery that ruled every day.  They did not have the medical knowledge to know what actually happened once they closed their eyes at night, once the darkness settled into their souls.  They didn’t know why their loved ones succumbed to strange illnesses, or why some people lived long and others died early.  And they were still part of a community that was oppressed and set apart, even as they held on with faith to a God that they believed had chosen them to be blessed.

Going to sleep was itself an act of faith, and it is clear that these words were not just offered up to the heavens to what they saw as an all-knowing God.  This prayer was beyond any simple theology-it was also a powerful daily moment of reflection, of encouragement and hope. Our ancestors wanted to go to bed with the belief that above all, the next day would be better, the morning would bring peace and light, and that they would survive another day to say it all over again.

I know that so many of us have been saying our own Hashkiveinu the last few days.  Not necessarily to a God who will save or protect us, but as this quiet reminder that the world is not really as bad as it seems.  Our Hashkiveinu is that the news will really get better, that this pandemic will slow, and that it will not become a threat to humanity in the way that now seems inevitable.

I am sure that I am not alone in what I have been feeling the past few days.  Our world is changing all too fast, and there is so much to get used to. Social distancing.  Washing our hands. Virtual services and classes. Quarantine. Travel restrictions. Boredom, loneliness and worry.  

And as we find creative ways to cope with the new situation, we can also enjoy the new blessings that have also found their way through.

With this perspective change, maybe now we can begin to see what is most important in our lives.  We can more honor our relationships, while at the same time leaving the space to take better care of ourselves.  We can recognize the importance of community, and know that we need others as much as others need us.

I will go to bed tonight with a little more fear than I am used to, but I will also hold onto the reminders that this situation gives us.  

We are here for each other, and we need to work in each and every moment to bring more love and healing into the world. 

We have to live not just for ourselves, but for the good and health of all people. 

Our actions matter, and we matter.  

We will eventually move past this pandemic, but we won’t truly survive unless we listen to the lessons it teaches us.

With Blessings of Healing and Hope

Sat, July 11 2020 19 Tammuz 5780