by Vale Levin –
The year 2020 will be remembered as the year that the entire world came to a standstill, the economy went through a massive change, and people across the globe locked themselves inside. Social distancing seems to have touched society as a whole, and we have all experimented with new resources to help ourselves feel less socially isolated and increase our connection not only with our peers but also to our beliefs.
We have attended classes through virtual platforms. We have taught through virtual platforms. We hosted virtual Passover seders, virtual Kabbalat Shabbats, virtual havdallahs, virtual everything. And, rather than complaining, we have done the opposite and have over-adapted. We came to the realization that we can in fact preserve our traditions despite not being physically present within the community. We proved to ourselves that if you want it, it can be a reality. There are also cases that surprise and call our attention, cases in which those who are, in their daily lives, distanced from Jewish tradition and ritual, have sought to find comfort in Jewish beliefs during this time. They have done so by consulting rabbis and spiritual leaders and attending virtual Kabbalat Shabbats and the various virtual discussions being held.
From this, we could easily say that many people, in such extreme situations, seek to cling to something that they can believe in, but we can also say that the external physical confinement is revealing an internal confinement that we are seeking to release, at the least for a small trip.
Many issues arrive when our daily routines are placed on hold. We cannot continue with our lives as normal and are trying to adapt. At times, we may feel as if everything is totally under our control, while at other brief or prolonged moments we may feel as if we are drowning in a glass of water. Everything seems gray, and we are sinking under the pressure of anxiety. As much as this may feel as if it is unique to our current stage in history, we can, in fact, go to the Torah to find how a text, written millenia ago, was able to describe a similar sense of uncertainty. At the beginning of Genesis, we read:
“In the beginning. . . the earth was empty and void and darkness was upon the face of the abyss. And G-d said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light. G-d saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness…. and it was evening and it was morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:2-5)
We can see from this text that there was darkness that preceded the light, and that for there to be light it needed to be created. Without the necessity, there would not have been creation or change. In fact, light, in its very beginning was mixed with this darkness and needed to be separated, detached from the darkness, in order for it to function. In the following lines, G-d named the light day, meaning light and day have the same meaning. Although a day, as we count it, includes the darkness of night with the light of day, G-d chose to override this for a more luminous meaning. We can also read this to mean that each moment of darkness is followed by the moment of illumination. Of course, it would be beautiful to think that our whole lives should be filled with light and illumination, but the Torah is showing us that we need darkness in order to have light, and from moments of darkness we can learn. Getting through that darkness helps us understand that there are obstacles to overcome and difficulties to face, but that there is joy and opportunity awaiting us at the end.
By experiencing critical situations throughout our lives, we can begin to understand what is healthy and what can help us. However, that salvation will only come if we sincerely connect using our emotions. It requires that we recognize what is happening to us, and that we want to experience change and connect with a new source of solace in a healthy manner. Connecting on an emotional level will allow us to know ourselves better, and help us to create better bonds with others. As Jewish educators, the opportunity within this darkness is even greater, for we have the chance to guide those who are seeking. People are reaching out for us, and, using the tools we have, we can take them by the (virtual) hand and bring them with us, even as we go on our journeys.
The Torah teaches us that at the end of Moshe’s life, he grew sad as he realized that he would not be able to see the entrance to the promised land. We can learn from this that even the man who did so much for the Jewish people, the man who accomplished so much, who even spoke face to face with G-d could not help but feel sadness. Even such a successful man as Moshe goes through sadness and dark times. In a time when we are constantly, desperately searching for ways to deal with our anxiety and sadness, it is also important to take refuge in the moments of light and to look forward to what is to come. Moshe found hope. He found it when he realized that, while he would not enter the promised land, his people would. Even when we go through moments of sadness, we must see that we, by helping others on their journeys, have sown a better tomorrow, and will continue to sow the seeds of hope. It is in this hopeful future that we must take refuge and remind ourselves that the sun will rise many more times.