Progressively Speaking: The pandemic has given us much to reflect on
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Progressively Speaking: The pandemic has given us much to reflect on

Rabbis Rebecca Birk and René Pfertzel look at the impact of coronavirus can teach us ahead of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashana
Rosh Hashana

Jewish time is cyclical and at the same time also linear. Every year we celebrate milestones of our personal and communal lives, and yet, each year is completely different. 

How did our ancestors feel when they celebrated Rosh Hashanah in 70CE, looking at the smoking ruins of the Temple of Jerusalem? What was the atmosphere during Kol Nidre in 1492 in Spain, when our ancestors were expelled from their ancestral homes? How did they mark Succot in Auschwitz in 1943?

In a century from now, our descendants will ask the question, how did it feel to celebrate a new Jewish Year in 2021, still in the pandemic of Covid-19? 

The Mussar practice, which teaches us how to live a meaningful and ethical life, may offer us a few keys to lift our spirit. 

First, savlanut, patience. We have become accustomed to instant gratification, and also to instant access to news. In a matter of days, we were told to stay at home. We couldn’t do the simplest things we were used to. Information was scarce, confusing, scary. We had no idea how long it would last. 

The middah (virtue) of savlanut teaches us that we do not need to be in control all the time. There are times when we only need to sit and watch, to reflect on the meaning of our life, a moment of pause. We all benefit from such a break in time. How might patience lift and transform you?

That leads to our second middah: anavah, humility. We cannot use and abuse our planet as if it were our possession. We are its hosts, and too often treat it poorly. We cross lines and then the earth fights back. The earth is a living organism that deserves our love, care and respect. Has this truth been reinforced this past year? 

Lastly, we have rediscovered the power of community, as the cement that binds us all, with compassion and empathy. In Hebrew, such compassion is rachamnut. Our communities became a place where people gathered to make sense of the situation and, more importantly, to find warmth and comfort. They are still doing so, online and in person. 

May this New Year of 5782 be a good one for all of us, where we draw on patience, humility and compassion to work together for the good of our communities and our world.

 Rabbis Rebecca Birk and René Pfertzel are co-chairs of The Conference Of Liberal Rabbis And Cantors

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