Receiving the Torah anew in the era of COVID-19

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Lag B’Omer marks the end of the semi-mourning period that we began after Pesach. The beginning and end of this sefirah period are unique in that they are the only days on our religious calendar which have no agreed-upon date. Some people start on the second day of Pesach, some on Rosh Hodesh Iyyar; some people end on Lag Ba’Omer, some on the day after  (see here for a halakhic presentation of the different practices).

This period parallels what we have been going through this last year. People and communities began their coronavirus “sefirah practices”–adopting restrictions and separating themselves from society–all at different times. And now, with the vaccine distribution and administration differing from place to place, people are ending these practices at different times as well.

Sefirah, then, is a time of uncertainty. Lag B’Omer (or the day after for Sefardim) marks the end of that uncertainty. But our end goal has not yet been realized. We have yet to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, which will give direction and structure to our lives. And when we settled in the Land of Israel, this time ended with the bringing of bikkurim, the new fruit. The period of the ripening of fruit is an uncertain time, a time as of yet unrealized potential. The bringing of the ripe fruit marks a new start, a time to begin to actualize the potential powers in the world.

Our current uncertain and anxious coronavirus year is approaching its own Lag B’Omer and will — God willing — soon enter a time that marks our transition into a normalized world. Our ultimate goal, however, will not yet have been reached. What — for this reality — does it mean to stand at Mount Sinai? What does it mean to bring the new fruit?

To work and move towards these goals for us, is to seize the opportunity of entering into a fresh, new reality with unrealized potential. It is a reality of new beginnings, a reality that is ready to receive its own new Torah, a new way to define our lives and society. The world we will soon enter is one in which the norms and the powerful inertial forces have paused. The key question we must ask ourselves is this: How will we take the lessons that we have learned, the issues that have surfaced in society around healthcare, inequities, our priorities and commitments, and translate them into a new reality, one with a new Torah, with new fruit and a new start?

YCT and our rabbis in the field are doing their part to answer these questions. Yet we can only truly make the changes that are needed if we all work together. Let us use this time of Lag B’Omer to reflect on what is it we can do, individually and communally, to realize the tremendous potential the world is now presenting us with, and actualize it into a better world for all of us.

About the Author
Rabbi Dov Linzer is the President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, and is the primary architect of its groundbreaking curriculum of Torah, Halakha, pastoral counseling, and professional training. Rabbi Linzer has been a leading rabbinic voice in the Modern Orthodox community for over 20 years. He hosts a number of highly popular podcasts, including Joy of Text and Iggros Moshe A to Z. He teaches regular classes in advanced Talmud, advanced Halakha and the thought of Modern Orthodoxy, and serves as a religious guide to the yeshiva’s current rabbinical students and over 130 rabbis serving in the field.
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