Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

600,000 and 100,000: From Sinai to Sinai

From Sinai to Sinai: At the mountain, thunder, lightning, and a still, small voice; at the hospital, beeps of machines -- and the soft, tearful voices of family by phone
According to tradition, 600,000 Jews were given the Torah at Mount Sinai.  But Jewish belief also has it that many millions more were there in spirit — including all those not yet born — Jews of every background, men, women, young, old, lifers and Jews by Choice, those Jewish, Jew(ish) and Jewish-adjacent.  We are all among the 600,000.
As of today, over 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 over the past three months, and 356,000 worldwide.  We suffer with all the suffering and grieve each death. Though many have died alone, part of each of us has died too.
We’ve gone, symbolically, from Sinai, the mountain, to Mount Sinai, the hospital, and still we are counting, bodies and souls.  We are at Sinai, and we are at Mount Sinai; we stand at the foot of the mountain, and we lie prone in the ICU.  This double Sinaitic vision will accompany us, as it will for unborn generations.  Our journey will forever take us from Mount Sinai to Mount Sinai.
At Sinai, the mountain, the Israelites shuddered when they heard the first letter of the first word of revelation, the alef of “anochi” (“I”), the inaudible sound of a single breath.
At Mount Sinai, the hospital, we all shuddered at the whirring sounds of the breath-giving ventilators.
At the mountain, the people were so terrified that they begged Moses for God to stop.  At the hospital, the doctors begged their leaders for more ventilators, which came too late to save so many.
At Sinai the mountain it is said that some Israelites overslept, which is a reason given for the all-night Tikkun study sessions instituted by the Kabbalists.
At Sinai the hospital, only the intubated slept.
At Sinai the mountain, a midrash states that God held the mountain over the heads of the Israelites to pressure them into acceptance of the Covenant, but no one died.
At Sinai the hospital, doctors had to play God and decide who shall receive the scarce life-saving options at their disposal. One doctor in Elmhurst said, “The most anxiety I have is around ventilator allocation. Seeing people die is not the issue. We’re trained to deal with death. Nor is it the volume of people dying. The issue is giving up on people we wouldn’t normally give up on.”
At the mountain there was thunder and lightning, and a still, small voice. At the hospital, there were the beeps and hums of the machines — and the still, soft, tearful voices of family members on the phone.

COVID-19 has now been permanently appended to Exodus 20, conjoined to our amended Covenant, a codicil that links the two Sinais eternally.

At Sinai the mountain, the Israelites raised their voices in unison, declaring, “We will act and we will understand.”
In America, and in other less fortunate countries throughout the world, those struggling to live and to save lives are uttering a different prayer, hoping against hope that our leaders will finally understand – and act.
About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307
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