On the anniversary of the pandemic, what or who do you appreciate more than ever before?
The classic medieval commentator, Rashi, quotes an earlier midrashic source that connects the ceremonial ashes of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) not just to the immediate ritual purity that its ashes bring individuals, but to a more mystical atonement for the collective national crime of the Egel Hazahav — the historic Golden Calf episode that dominates this week’s Torah reading. This year, as I reread Rashi’s comments “Let The Cow Come And Clean Up The Mess Left By The Calf.” re: the Parah Adumah (the mom) cleaning up the mess of the kid (the Egel), who knew just a year ago that I’d be able to identify so closely with the hero of Parshas Para (the archetypal mom) through an elongated stint at home cleaning up the mess of others (and my own). To supplement an old adage: “Man plans and God laughs. And gives Man a taste of what it’s like to be the Woman, bearing the brunt of the housework, child-rearing, and most everything else.”
Things will be different in the New (maskless?) World post-pandemic, and perhaps the COVID era provides a window into olam haba — times to come — in a way that we are usually only afforded one day a year on Purim. How un-ironic that on this annual day when — like Esther — we mask our identities, we get the opportunity to truly pay attention to what we value deeper down beneath the superficial, and express appreciation to others via gift-giving. On this day, as in our current elongated era of living through an unrelenting fog and attempting to peek into life beyond, we put the virtual reality glasses on (upside-down) and catch a glimpse of the non-virtual reality to come — the possibilities of a world that could be — once we lift our (collective) masks.
For me, it’s reminiscent of the Talmudic aggada (story) (Bava Batra 10b), surrounding Yosef the son of Rav Yehoshua who died and was restored to life. His father asked him what he saw during the time he was dead. “I saw an upside down world; those who were prominent in this world were the least prominent in Olam HaBa while those who were on the lowest rungs of society in this world were on the highest rungs in Olam HaBa.” Maybe this is what the prophet alludes to (Jeremiah 33:10-11) when he tells of a time we will once again hear not just the voice of the chattan (groom), but also the kallah (bride) i.e. we’ll finally truly value and deeply hear and appreciate the woman’s true worth.
We have all been living in a topsy turvy world this last year. For those of us – myself included — that didn’t previously pay as much attention to essential workers like our spouses, or those keeping our stores open, our kids educated and entertained, our streets clean, and delivering our foods and medications, my prayer is that we continue to appreciate and communicate just how much we appreciate them, and that we learn from them how to climb those rungs out of the fog to olam haba.
P.S. For a superb collection of bite-size portrayals imagining “olam haba”, I highly recommend the book SUM: 40 Tales from the Afterlives. (You can read extracts here)