THE KABBALAH OF REVITALIZATION
I see it these days in people’s eyes. I see it in their mannerisms and behavior. I see it in their gait.
What I am referring to is subtle changes in people now that COVID’s Omicron is abating.
Over the past couple of years society has been through such radical changes. It seems that our basic living was altered. Instead of getting up and dressed and commuting to work, many remained in their pajamas and worked from home. No longer were children’s smiling faces seen running through the school hallways. Instead, children wore masks over their noses and mouths, in effect obfuscating any facial emotion. Even tears rolled down masks instead of cheeks. Sports stadiums had these stupid cardboard cutouts of people sitting in the stands in lieu of real people. Did they sell two-dimensional hot dogs and beer?
To add to the pain there was often confusing and illogical government overreach. For example, they closed clothing shops and malls and allowed grocery/food stores to remain open. This made complete sense on some level. However, this led to stores like Target being allowed to sell clothing because they also sold food. So frustrating to watch clothing stores shuttered because of the pandemic, which allowed Target to make millions. There is also this great divide over vaccines and further greater divides over vaccine mandates. The pandemic has become so political, literally pitching citizens against their fellow citizens. As I am a libertarian, I struggle with someone trying to convince another that their view is the only position that should be followed.
I do not remember a time when things got so bleak. Smiles were a rarity and laughter was even harder to come by. The human kingdom was by and large depressed.
However, in my capacity as a Rabbi, I am starting to witness small but positive changes. I see more and more people beginning to join our daily and Shabbat services. I am a witness that at a recent Shiva house, people were mingling without the deer in headlights look. I see restaurants as well as the roads showing healthy signs of life. And yes, Target thankfully has healthy competition once again.
I am optimistic that while there may be some sliding back, we are for the most part coming out of our reverie and beginning to live again.
This reminds me of when a relative of mine was stricken with anorexia nervosa. The lights in her eyes simply went out. After a prolonged battle and with some serious nutrition, the lights turned on again. I am seeing the same with COVID nervosa.
The Kabbalah teaches that in every challenge there is a lesson to be learned. The question is, what can we learn from our COVID experiences? What changes can we implement in our lives for the better? I have come up with three fundamentals that I am sure you will agree are major. There are many more lessons to be learned from this sordid experience. I would appreciate all and any feedback.
If you are anything like me, you have previously complained about the daily grind. I am talking pre-COVID. You kvetched, groaned and moaned about how hard or monotonous or petty life has become. You were praying for something to change. Guess what? Life changed all right, and not for the better. What we would only do to go back to our “old” life where we thought life was hard, monotonous and petty. Who knew that hard was not hard and that pettiness is beautiful?
The lesson is clear. Appreciate what you have and live in the moment. Someone sent me a clip of a contestant who was on America’s Got Talent by the stage name of Nightbirde. This 30-year-old woman, Jane Kristen Marczewski, was dying of cancer, and yet she still came on the stage to compete. She recently passed away. She said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. She said, “Don’t wait for life to be not hard to be happy.”
While COVID should have brought out the best in us, for many, it had the reverse effect. It is not okay to despise someone because they think differently than you. In Judaism we have a teaching that if one wishes to be honored and respected, then one needs to honor and respect. I have a very definite set of views and opinions, but this does not mean I cannot hear the other side. It is high time for everyone to reconcile our differences. We can agree to disagree, as long as we do not become disagreeable.
Let me share with you a personal life altering example.
I was appalled that so many statues and monuments were being taken down all over the country. I asked myself, is there anything to gain by removing history? Just because you remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, it does not mean it never happened. I was on my high horse until someone asked me whether a statue of Hitler should be allowed to stand in the center of Berlin, as after all, this terrible monster did actually exist, did he not? It was then that I realized that my high horse is really just a Shetland pony, and that I have not mastered as much as I thought I did.
We do not live in a vacuum. Many of our personal decisions do not affect just us but rather they can affect many. When I think of the origins of COVID, I get cold shivers. The city of Wuhan, China, is pretty much as far as you can get. Wuhan is 7,477 miles from New York. The furthest distance to anywhere is just about 500 miles further. Yet, Wuhan’s actions were felt in the inner sanctum of my house, literally.
We need to realize that our speech and actions have incredible ramifications. We may be the owners of our own house, but this does not give us any ownership over the sandbox in the community playground. We need to think before we talk or act. Important to point out that while Wuhan’s actions (or non-actions) affected us negatively, there is so much we can do that is positive that can go just as viral.
Please feel free to share.
Rabbi Yakov Saacks, The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY
Author of The Kabbalah of Life