If pressed to describe my relationship with You this past year, I’d have to say it was complex. And if asked to sum up the entire year in a single word? I’d simply say “corona.”
This week we sanctify the new moon, ushering in the month of Elul, the last on the Jewish calendar. Once we enter Elul, we know that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are just around the corner. This is the time of year we begin blowing the shofar daily, Sephardim begin reciting selichot, and the air of the High Holiday season and the imminent near year permeates our thoughts and interactions. It’s palpable.
This is when I reflect upon my relationship with You and the year we’ve had. It started quite peacefully. Things were looking good for the world. The economy was booming.
What happened next, none of us could have foreseen. We had no idea that while we were blissfully ushering in the new year, a pandemic had already started in China. About half-way through, just before Purim, the world was shaken to its core as corona hit us like a ton of bricks. We were entirely unprepared, had no tools to handle it, and simply shut down. I try to imagine how we will explain this period to our grandchildren… it’s hard to picture. But 2020 will certainly feature prominently in history books and in our stories. Will we ever be able to truly convey the extent of the shutdown? I’m not sure.
But that wasn’t all. Then we had protests, riots, crime, looting and mass exodus from major cities like Manhattan where I live. The pandemic is far from over, people remain anxious and schools are struggling with decisions over how to structure the upcoming academic year.
Surprisingly, G-d, despite all the havoc You wrought upon us this year, I feel closer to You than ever. Do I understand Your actions? Absolutely not. I don’t understand why so many had to die. I don’t understand why so many had to lose their jobs. I don’t understand why You brought so much pain to the world, as well as all the animosity that has come in its wake. Nevertheless, I think I love You more than ever.
You see, this year I spent a lot more focused time communicating with You. Since the world shut down, I’ve had more time at home, more time to learn Torah, meditate, and pray. I’ve had more time to think about You and contemplate why You did this. And even though it’s painful and difficult, and I know that I will never understand, I know that You have the answers.
The pain and suffering does not make me turn away from You. Yes, it feels chaotic down here, but I know You have a plan. My trust in You, if anything, has only grown stronger. My love for You has increased. We will get through this and come out stronger than we were before. In the darkness, we will find and embrace light.
I am looking forward to coronating You as our King on Rosh Hashanah.
When I recited the Avinu Malkeinu prayer during the High Holiday season last year, I did not pay particular attention to the words, “Our Father in Heaven, prevent a plague from coming amongst us.” But I can assure you that this year, I will have an entirely new focus.
When I say the words, “Bring peace amongst us,” I will be praying for a resolution to the division that fighting that tears us apart. And when I read, “Who will live and who will die?” I will think of the many tragic losses we experienced this year, and put new intention into the words.
We pray for Moshiach, when we will finally understand how this was all for the ultimate good. Until then, we continue to believe and to pray.
Rabbi Uriel Vigler