The Plague of Waiting

One of the watchwords of the moment is waiting. We’re waiting for scientists to develop a vaccine. We’re waiting for our government to ramp up testing. We’re waiting for schools and shuls and businesses to reopen so that we can reclaim a semblance of our pre-covid lives.

Jewish tradition has nothing against waiting. The very first Mishnah in Avot cautions us to be deliberate in judgment – to wait rather than to rush headlong into an impulsive decision. After the Exodus, we waited 40 long years before we could taste the fruit of the Promised Land. For two millennia, we waited to come home to an Israel we could call our own. We wait daily for the arrival of the messiah.

It’s when we make the mistake of confusing waiting for deferral that we betray our tradition. Waiting can never become an excuse not to act. The same Mishnah that counsels deliberation insists that we become teachers and raise up many students. Our time in the Wilderness was taken up with the study and mastery of the newly-received Torah. And while we waited to return to Israel, we learned its laws, we davened, and – in modern history – we organized a movement that actively fought to transform dream into reality. It’s quite amazing to think of all that we’ve accomplished while we were waiting.

They say Isaac Newton developed calculus during an outbreak of the Plague in 1665. Our contribution needn’t be so grand. But neither are we free to simply pass the time. We have lives to lead and milestones to mark. We have books to read and children to teach. As Robert Frost might say, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. There will be plenty to celebrate when the day of return arrives. But there’s also plenty to do until it does.

About the Author
Yosie Levine is the Rabbi of The Jewish Center. He has taken a leadership role on the issue of day school affordability and serves as the chair of Manhattan Day School's Political Advocacy Committee. He is co-chair of the Manhattan Eruv and is active in numerous communal organizations including AIPAC and the Beth Din of America and serves on the Board of UJA-Federation of New York. He earned a BA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia College and as a Wexner Graduate Fellow received rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He holds an MPA in Public Policy from NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School and earned a doctoral degree in Early Modern Jewish History at Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School. His doctoral dissertation is titled Hakham Zevi: An Intellectual Biography of an Early Modern Port Rabbi.
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