This morning I woke up (yet again) with an underlying sense of anxiety, that amorphous feeling in my stomach that something is not quite right. It takes only half a second to remember what that “something” is. Rockets, riots, Jewish-Arab violence spreading through Israeli cities, unrest across the country. No shortage of reasons to be anxious.
In Gush Etzion, we have thankfully been spared the worst of this latest round of conflict. The sirens have not sounded here, and we are blessed to have slept through the last few nights in our own beds. All around us, though, there are reminders of the current national situation.
You feel it when you fill your car with gas and there are soldiers standing all around you in full battle gear with their guns cocked. You hear it with the constant echoes of the Iron Dome taking down missiles. You see it in the worried faces of your friends whose husbands and children are being called up to the southern front to prepare for a possible ground invasion; and you live it as you discuss with your spouse how to get sleeping children down to the mamad (protected room) in the event of a siren in the middle of the night.
And you wonder: What will tomorrow bring?
If we have learned anything from this past year, it is that, frankly, we have no idea.
The illusion that we were ever in control of our circumstances has been shattered.
A world-wide pandemic has humbled the most brilliant doctors, scientists and researchers and has forced us to come to terms with the limitations of our human capabilities.
A terrible tragedy in Meron has silenced any claims that harm will not affect us when we engage in holy acts or that the righteous are always protected.
And the most recent events here in Israel, and the way they are reported abroad, remind us that we have little control over the narrative, the media, the spin and the way the world chooses to respond to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Just a few weeks ago, we reveled in the fact that the COVID crisis seems to be over in Israel as we began to enjoy the first tastes of the normalcy we have craved—walking outside without a mask, celebrating a wedding with more than 50 people, inviting company for a Shabbat meal.
But now, suddenly, we are forced to think about those other “not normal” things we let ourselves forget–how much time do we have to get into a shelter? What do we do if we are outside when a siren sounds? How should we react if our car is stoned?
Is it any wonder that we wake up anxious?
It is easy to want to crawl back under the covers, shut off all news reports and emerge again when it is all over and everything is “under control.”
It is also tempting to either blame human error and negligence or give religious interpretations for why things happen the way they do. Both give us some semblance of control.
But “if we knew Him, we would be Him.”
Perhaps the only way, then, to face tomorrow is by thinking about and focusing on today.
Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the Jewish people receiving the Torah and its mitzvot, is quickly approaching.
About the mitzvot, our Sages comment: “‘Today to do them’ (Deuteronomy 7:11), and not tomorrow” (Eruvin 22a). Our focus must continually be on this moment’s tasks and decisions, despite all the uncertainties that threaten to distract us.
And though the giving of the Torah transpired thousands of years ago, Rashi exhorts us that “the words of Torah should be new for us as if they were given today” (Exodus 19:1).
We are challenged throughout life to maintain a fresh, new perspective, even on that which is familiar to us and which we often come to take for granted—such as the souls that God returned to us this very morning, just before we groggily rubbed our eyes and checked the news to learn what transpired over another tense night.
With the simple words of Modeh Ani, we find the strength to get out of bed, grateful for another day that we can make the most of—learning new things, investing in relationships that matter, spending time on what is important to us and appreciating all that we have… today, right here, right now.