Monthly Archives: March 2020

What Does God Think?

“How’s it going?” I ask. “Fine. How are you?” “Hanging in there…” “Yeah, us too. Stay healthy.” “You too.”

 We’ve passed each other on the street twice a day, 3 days in a row. We say the same things. Every. Time. It feels like a scene right out of the Truman Show (which is available on Starz and Hulu, NOT on Netflix or HBO). Same line, same faces. Every. Day.

I wonder as we pass: have we ever met prior to this awkward moment of rendezvous? Do we live on the same street? What are you doing to stay alive? Do you sterilize the kitchen counter when you bring in groceries? How much toilet paper do you have? Are you scared, anxious, terrified or freaked out? Who do you watch? Do you read everything from multiple sources? Do you avoid the news altogether?

I have a thousand more questions running in the back of my head. This social isolation has my poor extroverted brain spinning like a hard drive searching for a source… But, in the meantime, I nod to the strollers in the street – and there so many strollers in the streets! – and offer my desultory commentary.

Sometimes I think about what God might be thinking during this peculiar time. The God in my head is not a loud, belligerent manager screaming about what the heck it is we humans screwed up this time. God is not some punishing presence visiting a plague upon humanity because we are awful. And God is not some twisted teacher causing a plague to teach us a lesson so that we come out of this madness being better and kinder to each other.

That classical God image is archaic and cruel. The God with the temper, the God who causes calamity and loss and destruction – that God I don’t want or need. My God looks at this mess we’re in, shaking an anthropomorphic head in sadness. The Holy One has no power, no magic wand to wave and make it all go away. My God has absolutely no answers as to why and how this happened. COVID19 is as opaque and ominous to God as it is to us.

The God I connect with is a God of endless love, el rachum v’chanun: a God of mercy and compassion. This God consoles me, reminds me that I am not alone. God reminds me that I have a family and friends and a soulful congregation. God reminds me that the Holy One is with me, too. And that, “Even when I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because you are with me.”

I do not pretend to know what’s next. But I do know that following the World Health Organization’s 5 directives is a sacred obligation, a true mitzvah:

HANDS Wash them often                                 

ELBOW Cough into it

FACE Don’t touch it

SPACE Keep safe distance

HOME Stay if you can

And I do know that staying in touch with people, reaching out via phone and/or Internet, even saying, “How are you?” to the same people every day is right and necessary – for them and for me, too.

Nothing happens for a reason or because God wills it to be so. There is no magical thinking in postmodern Judaism, just the assertion that we can rise to to the place God desires us to attain. It is a place of empathy and understanding. It is a place where we might candidly acknowledge our fears and sadness, even as we redouble our efforts to grow individually as human beings. We can participate more actively with our communities to feel and to be more connected, even when we are forced to be physically apart from each other.

It’s a long hard road and we’re on it together. No shortcuts in sight. We’re not alone. I’m all in, with your trust and love, knowing that God is by our side, giving the gift of infinite love as we make our way.

Shabbat Shalom


Take a Breath

I’ve been taking walks every day since returning home from surgery on February 25th.  I started with 5-minute strolls in the house, moving from room to room. The scenery got boring quickly, but there was a sense of satisfaction that I could move through space – at all.  

Four days in, I walked up and down the stairs. And while I would not characterize that as an accomplishment comparable to that of Sir Edmund Hillary, I did pause at the summit for a breath, and for a quick prayer of shehechiyanu. My goals in recovery, small and gradual, were in my power to achieve. 

On day 8, Rachel, my visiting physical therapist, arrived as part of my post op team. At some point I will give a shout out to my PT and the visiting nurse and… well, the cast of professionals at Beth Israel and those who came to my home to push me forward gently and to keep an eye on my vitals.  Anyway, my PT suggested we go for a walk.

As we strolled along, Rachel stopped, looked at me and said, “You’re hunching over as you walk, and your shoulders are up around your ears. Many post-op bypass people walk like that; it’s your body going into protective posture. But now I want you to consciously change that: stand up straight, drop your shoulders, and take a deep breath.” 

I endeavor to be the quintessential good patient, so I did as she suggested. I just let my shoulders drop. “Now take a deep breath, hold it, then release,” she instructed.

In that moment, still learning the vagaries of my post-op body, my limitations in it, as well as the  DNA-driven need to protect it, something deeply profound occurred. Doing the simplest things imaginable: relaxing my shoulders and taking a breath, created a dramatic surge of endorphins that swept over me. An immeasurable sense of well-being filled my soul. 

The decision to relax my shoulders and breathe was not magical or shamanic. I’ve made bigger decisions in my life… But there was something particularly consequential to it. I understood why I felt so tensed up, so physically defended. But that very understandable concern blocked another possibility: that I could untense, take a deep breath, and reframe my place in the world. Yes, I was operated on. Yes, my sternum was wired back together. Yes, I was so sore.

And – yes, I can accept that as all true and real and then anticipate feeling better as time slowly passes. It’s my choice, my decision.

I’ve largely stopped reading the prognosticators’ accounts of the future of the world in light of Covid19. There’s no good to be found in the projections and the gloomy assessments. It will be what it will be. We have no control over that. The prognosticators only true product is angst. I don’t want any of it, any more than is my own daily portion.

Just tell me the rules: where I can go, what I can do, who I can see, how far I have to stand back, what I can do to make others’ lives better, how I can help. I’d build ventilators in my garage if I could – but I can’t. I’d develop a vaccine, but I don’t know how. So, I’m going to be the best possible dad and grandfather and husband and uncle that I can be. I’m going to figure out how to be the best TBA rabbi I can be in cyberspace.

And I’m going to drop my shoulders and take a breath. And you do it, too, even if it’s for 30 seconds. Send some healing to your frayed soul. Let your body take care of you. It won’t make everything all better. But it will remind you of the peaceful presence of your soul, the goodness you contain, and the promise of a new day.

Shabbat Shalom