As days of quarantine have given way to weeks, we have all developed various coping skills. For some of us that means rigorous schedules: wake up time, shower, breakfast, first call/zoom/Facetime meeting, walk, lunch… you get the idea. A regimented trajectory for the day enhances a sense of control and high-level rational thought. It triggers executive functioning and self-esteem. Yes, it declares, I can do this.
Others let the tide take them. No alarm. No schedule. No pants…
Some of us have kids at home. Depending on their age, school, sitzfleisch (power to endure or to persevere in an activity; staying power), and personality, the managerial skills necessary to attend to their needs are prodigious. This huge responsibility takes up a massive amount of our brain’s hard drive.
There are so many subcategories of individual and collective experiences in this phase of our lives; way too many to list. Truth is, no two people fit into any category except one: we are all in this together. We are trying so hard to keep positive. We want to embrace hope. We want to take the Jewish notion of salvation and apply it to this moment, right now.
Jewish salvation is different than the Christian concept. In those cool and shocking drawings that interpret a fundamentalist Christian concept called the Rapture, God lifts the saved up into Heaven, leaving everyone else on earth to die miserable deaths. It’s plain and simple and requires no explanation.
Jewish tradition stipulates that no amount of mitzvot, of good deeds and good intentions, get you to the front of the line. The really bad guys get weeded out by virtue of their sins, which place them outside the large circle, or as the URJ calls it, the big tent of Judaism. And, to be clear, God shares a special sense of love and affinity with those who understand how to be a mensch. To have a sense of God’s love is a gift worth earning through living a good life.
But Jewish tradition eschews any notion of individual salvation. We cross the finish line together: the heroes and the not so heroic. The big guys and the not so big guys. The extraordinary and the below average. There is no class valedictorian, no captain of the mitzvah team. Because we’re a community, a family, a people.
We are in social isolation for the good of all of us. Our selfless adherence to a social policy is about the collective; it is about us. We are united in moving together. We are committed to the health and welfare of all of us. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s not about what I want or I need. It’s not about what I deserve. It’s not about finding scapegoats for the origins of Covid19. It’s not about sinister plots or 5G or immigrants or another Jewish plot to take over the world. Such twisted thinking is beneath contempt.
Each one of us is making our way, day by day. It’s tough going, even for the shiest introvert. We are cut off from so much. We miss the embrace of loved ones and friends. We yearn for the simplest touch of a hand, for the feeling of being in a group. It’s about all of us.
The Aleinu prayer contains a line that says, “On that day, God will be One and God’s Name will be One.” This is the world we await. We yearn to see a world more united and at peace, where evil has been driven from the world, and where humanity gains a common vision of God that draws us closer, one to the other. This is a Jewish dream, a dream we want to share with the rest of the world. Proclaiming this hope is our mission, our light to the nations.
As you make your way through this weekend, isolated, restricted, remember that we have an old/new ideal, a concept bequeathed to us from our earliest ancestors and taught to our youngest babies: we are one as God is one. We will cross the threshold of despair and aloneness into a time of heightened awareness of the fullness of this gift of life we share.
No one said this would be easy. And nobody said that salvation was a simple concept. The saving grace in the story is that as isolated as you may feel, we will cross the finish line, perhaps in stages, perhaps with a variety of restrictions – but we will cross the threshold together.