June 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Corona Diary #25: Turn Back the Clock

Vayakhel/Pekudei

The wedding date had already been set. Anxiously anticipating this day, the bride and groom shopped for the furniture of their future home. Selecting the actual couches, beds and tables should have taken an hour or two; instead the process stretched across an entire day. Each furnishing excited loving visions of their shared future. As they selected furniture, their imaginations leapt into an enchanted future of marriage and partnership. Selecting a kitchen set, the couple amusingly envisioned early morning breakfasts with their young children. As they measured their sofa, they anticipated hosting guests in their home. Designing their bedroom evoked thoughts of the many personal and private moments they would share. Each furnishing was deliberately selected and each dimension carefully measured and re-measured. As the wedding was still a few days off, the furniture order was put on hold.

Tragically, on the night prior to the wedding, the bride betrayed her husband-to-be. Hearing of his bride’s disloyalty, a shocked and horrified groom angrily stormed out of the event hall, casting the wedding into disarray. What was originally intended as a great celebration turned into bedlam and outrage. The two families parted amidst anger and distrust.

A few weeks later family members from each side intervened, attempting to rebuild the shattered relationship. After preliminary meetings and several signs of good trust offered by each side, the groom and bride haltingly agreed to meet. Sitting across a table, but divided by a gulf of mistrust and hurt feelings, they gradually rebuilt their trust and their relationship. After weeks of reconciliation, it was decided that the marriage should proceed; a new date was set.

As the second wedding date drew near, the bride and groom returned to the furniture store to, once again, purchase furnishings for their home. At this stage, however, the emotionally “bruised” couple had little interest in luxuriating over their furniture selection. They made hasty decisions and placed quick and “uninspired” orders. Every showroom they visited provoked hurt and pain and, seeking to avoid this sadness, they quickly ordered whatever furniture was readily available—regardless of the exact dimensions and without regarding the quality of the units. They could not bear the pain, so they avoided it entirely. Though they could forgive each other, their marriage and relationship would remain forever scarred by infidelity. Human beings can forgive, but it is difficult to turn back the clock to the past.

I heard this story over 30 years ago, this week, from my rebbe, Harav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, as he extolled the teshuva that God offers us. In contrast to the bride and groom in this story who could forgive but could not forget, God invites us to repair our failures and recover our original state of purity and innocence—an offer that humans cannot provide. We fall into sin and into failure, but when God forgives us our relationship is reset to its original tone and its original love. We ask of God “chadeish yameinu k’kedem” hoping, not just to be forgiven, but to restore our earlier and more virtuous state and to reestablish the original state of our relationship with God.

Rav Lichtenstein asserted this as the reason that the Torah includes a seemingly redundant “double parsha” of Vayakhel and Pekudei. Two earlier sections of Terumah and Tetzaveh had already detailed the various materials and dimensions of the Mishkan; even the inclusion of these earlier sections is peculiar as the details appear relevant only for the craftsmen and artisans who fashioned the Mishkan. The extensive details concerning the manufacture of the Mishkan appear unnecessary for the common man. Yet, the Torah delineates these details because the process of building a home for and with God was a labor of love. Every item and every dimension was indulged in, and every lavish material reflected our desire to draw God into our world.

Tragically, the egel debacle ruptured these plans, putting on hold the construction of our home and the manufacture of its furnishings. As the tablets were shattered, our dreams of living in God’s home were crushed.

After weeks of prayer and penitence we were forgiven, and the marriage of God and His people was rescheduled. The lengthy descriptions in Parshat Vayakhel and Pekudei—practically word-for-word replicas of Terumah and Tetzaveh—underscores that God felt the exact same love for us after the egel as He did before our betrayal. Just as the Torah relishes the original list of dimensions in the earlier section of Terumah and Tetzaveh, it equally savors the process of construction after our sin and after our forgiveness. The extended list of dimensions in these latter sections of Vayakhel and Pekudei indicates that our teshuva can actually set the clock back and restore the native purity of our original relationship with God.

As we enter the second year of this pandemic, many are beginning to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” In Israel, the pace of vaccination suggests that life will shortly return to semi-normal. Across the world, we hope that vaccinations will eventually restore normal routines. It is unlikely that society and communities will fully recover their pre-corona routines in the near future. The cultural and communal after-effects of this pandemic will likely last a while and will shape both public opinion as well as public policy for the foreseeable future. We will not easily set the clock back to 2020.

On an individual level, however, the pandemic offers us a return to an earlier phase of our lives and a more “basic” identity, which our successes in life can sometimes obscure. Corona has robbed us all of many of the accomplishments and dreams that came to define us. Some have lost relatives, others have lost employment and still others have lost the opportunities and goals that, in the past, contributed to our identity. This personal “effacement” forces us to sharpen our self-identity. In the midst of a pandemic, the question “who we are” will more likely yield basic and straightforward answers—as we can less easily hide behind our accomplishments, occupations or broader goals. Stripped of so many external achievements, it is easier to tap into an internal self-definition that is more primal and more elementary. Loss allows us to return to a past “before” we succeeded in life’s various pursuits. A pandemic is reductive: It reduces us into more simple and unadorned people, more aware of our core identity; for religious people that core identity is our relationship with God. Corona helps us turn back the clock to our previous selves, to an earlier state in our lives “before”: before life and its complications forced us to lose our way. Everyone in life should be able to identify a “before”—a purer state or phase in our earlier lives to which we would like to return.

We may not recover pre-corona socio-economic experiences for years; our communal life will be reshaped in the post-corona landscape. On a broader level we move forward into relatively uncharted territory. Ironically, though, on a more personal level, the reductive nature of this pandemic helps us reclaim our former purer selves.

It turns out that we can turn back the clock on our lives.


The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has semicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a master’s degree in English literature from the City University of New York.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles