There’s a different mood this time round. The first lockdown took us by surprise. It was a shockdown, filled with fear, uncertainty and deep apprehension. We couldn’t quite believe what had hit us; we struggled with it as one struggles with a sudden loss: a mixture of denial, defiance, sorrow, panic and pathos. This time, this lockdown, feels more like a sad wind-down, a reluctant return to the closures and separation from loved ones. A period of masks but not masquerades, Tisha B’Av, not Purim.
The new measures eerily mirror the darkness of the Jewish calendar. This is the acute phase of mourning known as the Nine Days of Av which are saturated with Jewish tears. We recall the disasters of the expulsion from Spain, massacres of medieval Jewish communities and we especially remember the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This is the most sorrowful of times in our annual cycle…
One wit cleverly reflects the connections between Corona and the Nine days and the restrictive practises the Halacha legislates for this interval:
*Updated Melbourne lockdown restrictions*
From last night, July 21, for the next 9 days, Melbourne residents are forbidden to do the following activities:
▪ Shop for new clothes
▪ Launder Clothing
▪ Consume Meat and Wine
▪ Build and buy furniture
There are rumors of an ultimate stage of lockdown on Thursday next week, where eating, drinking, washing, and wearing shoes will be forbidden.”
A “bitterer gelechte” as they say in Yiddish or, loosely translated, sardonic humour. Our lives are constricted by these measures in keeping with the rabbis naming of this period as the narrow straits, the Bein HaMetzarim.
The spirit this time is more one of resignation than trepidation, more tiredness than terror, more despair than dismay. Fatigue rather and fear. A recognition that we’re in this for the long-run, that even with the most optimistic predictions it’s going to take a long while till we develop an effective and ready – available vaccine. A lengthy wait till we can move into a post – Covid normality. Our Treasurer Josh Frydenberg highlighted that today…
Facing this stage, requires a different mind-set, one of tenacity, resilience and endurability. There’s a word for this that comes out of our mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. It’s called netzach and is one of the components and attributes of the Ten Sefirot that power our lives. You will see in the picture below that netzach appears on the right side directly below chesed
Netzach is associated with the power to overcome obstacles, things which get in the way of realising your chesed aspirations, your capacity for compassion and spreading goodness in the world. Your ability to reach that point where: “The light in you is all I see”. And I would add the possibility of also seeing your own light and positive potential. “The light in you and me is all I see”.
Netzach is about endurance and fortitude. It’s been called a balance of patience, persistence and guts. Poet Hila Ratzabi writes: How do you access this endurance… it seems impossible; how do you find strength when you’re at the edge: From where will my hope come? (Psalm 121).
Endurance requires an honesty and openness as much as it demands focusing your mind and harnessing your heart. Netzach is on the same axis as chochma. It’s about accepting what you cannot change.
The prophet Samuel at a critical time in his life calls on God describing Him as Netzach Yisrael: “And also the Netzach of Israel [God] shall not deceive and not regret. He is not a man who regrets”. To regret here means to change your mind. To endure is to keep your mind constantly on your goal, not to falter in your resolve, not to resile or resign. The Sefirah or dimension of Netzach stands firm, for always. Netzach is not about a mortal (“not a man”) who fears death and is filled with regret and recrimination in the face of it.
Albert Einstein tellingly commented: “I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism have brought me to my ideas”.
I can’t think of a better credo for our Covid era: curiosity, endurability, self-awareness and truthfulness. Truthfulness to accept the reality of these challenging times, curiosity to find the strange wonderment in them and, of course, to find that vaccine and those effective treatments. Endurance and training to accept that this is a long-distance marathon, not a short race.
Jewish history is about resilience and tenacity, staying-power and belief. Belief in the future, the endurance and audacity of hope. “Sorrow and silence are strong, and patient endurance is Godlike: (Longfellow).