The Sons of Korech would sing about COVID-19

First, the good news. The sons of Korach didn’t die.

The less good? I am unemployed since the end of December and with the COVID-19 restrictions and the economic slowdown, I do not know when I will be back to work again.

I have been working for the last thirty years. My last job was in Rishon LeTzion for a public company that deals with transportation. I am 60 years old and live in Shiloh, which is about 80 kilometers (fifty miles) away from my old office. I was given two and a half weeks’ notice (I worked there for less than a year).

Being fired was a bit traumatic but not really a surprise. I had had some disagreements about how to do my job with my boss and I knew he was looking for an excuse to fire me. I believe that a boss has a right to choose his staff and to hire and fire accordingly, but my firing was done, in my opinion, a bit heartlessly. I wasn’t prepared for the bitch-face the women from human resources made (why?) and the cold formality of the process. I had worked perhaps only 10 months, but I gave it my all, regularly doing 12 hour days (I also really needed the overtime pay) on top of spending three to four hours commuting. I’d leave before 06:00 AM and get home just before 09:00 PM.

My plan was to take a month or two and then set up my own private consultancy practice. Laugh at that. Before I knew it Israel was in the midst of an economic crisis from the COVID-19 virus. With no government (then) and no new budget (still), the government is hamstrung in funding new projects and with the COVID-19 it is hard to plan for what to do next. For the government and for myself. Meanwhile, I am at home.

Like a manic-depressive, I go from bouts of optimism to depths of pessimism. One moment elated from prospects of getting enough work to make a decent living to fears of not making ends meet and becoming a burden. My wife has less than half an income and so the weight of the economic blow has fallen largely on my narrow shoulders and at times I feel lonely, isolated, and devalued in worth. Like an obsolete machine, I sit idle.

But I don’t.

I try to work and have slowly made contacts so that once work is available I can return to being productive. I decided to lose weight, and while not extremely successful, I am five kilograms down and at least five to go (I want to lose another ten!). I have used the time to learn Python and the garden has never looked better. I have time to study in the bet knesset. I write to ease my soul and to reach out.

I am also one of the lucky ones. I live where I can be outside. I collect unemployment insurance and can make ends meet if I economize. I have my health, a healthy family, even grandchildren in my yishuv who I see practically daily. I think of those who have fallen sick or have lost loved ones, of the small businesses that may never recover and will go bankrupt and of the millions in Africa and Asia that may even starve because in their counties there is no social welfare net to fall upon.

Back to the sons of Korach. Korach, their father, led a revolt against Moshe, not a holy revolt, rather one predicated on achieving honor, wealth, and position. The Bible states that Korach and all his household were swallowed alive into the Earth (in Parshat Korach) and in Parshat Pinhas, it is stated the sons of Korach did not die. Rashi says that the sons of Korach contemplated repentance and the Gemara says they were assigned to a higher step of Gehonim and there they sang praises to the Lord. Down for the count but still, in the ring, they did not give up. They got back on their feet and continued to fight. They only way they could. They sang praise.

In Psalm 49, the sons of Korach elaborate on the fleeting, ephemeral, nature of money and position. We all pursue it yet, in the end, it is never ours. Our lot is from Hashem and even with our best efforts,  we receive what we do in His grace.

So I, who have suffered far less, if at all, should be thankful for what I have. Perhaps the luxuries that I once allowed myself  (most not that healthy anyway), the honor I once held, or inflated view of my self worth have suffered, but I am far from hanging up my harp and giving up. Money and position are not everything and I will learn to get by as best as I can. I also believe that Israel will recover economically and when it does the knowledge and experience I have will again be needed and useful. There is a saying that what does not kill you, will make you stronger.  Like a wanderer in a dark jungle, I hope to emerge, leaner, in tatters yet ready for Life. What doesn’t kill you, will let you sing.  In the face of  COVID-19 I will sing praise and give thanks for what I have.

 

PSLAM 49

1 For the Leader; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.
2 Hear this, all ye peoples; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world,
3 Both low and high, rich, and poor together.
4 My mouth shall speak wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
5 I will incline mine ear to a parable; I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
6 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters compass me about,
7 Of them that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches?
8 No man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him–
9 For too costly is the redemption of their soul, and must be let alone for ever–
10 That he should still live always, that he should not see the pit.
11 For he sees that wise men die, the fool and the brutish together perish, and leave their wealth to others.
12 Their inward thoughts are, that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
13 But Man abides not in honor; he is like the beasts that perish.
14 This is the way of them that are foolish, and of those who after them approve their sayings. Selah
15 Like sheep they are appointed for the nether-world; death shall be their shepherd; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their form shall be for the nether-world to wear away, that there be no habitation for it.
16 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the nether-world; for He shall receive me. Selah
17 Be not thou afraid when one waxes rich, when the wealth of his house is increased;
18 For when he dies, he shall carry nothing away; his wealth shall not descend after him.
19 Though while he lived, he blessed his soul: ‘Men will praise thee, when thou shalt do well to thyself’;
20 It shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see the light.
21 Man that strives for honor understands not; he is like the beasts that perish

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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