I’m over 70, diabetic, paralyzed from a serious stroke, and the recipient of a donor kidney, under the auspices of Renewal, from a wonderful woman who has chosen to remain anonymous. Doctors tell me this puts me in the highest possible category of risk during this pandemic.
What were the implications? I had no alternative but to isolate and follow all the guidelines.
I’ve been to far too many virtual shiva calls and funerals. So much tragedy. So much sadness. Amidst all this, I wanted to share a few thoughts as we all go through this horrible plague.
A short prayer many of us recite upon waking up, first known to us in the Seder HaYom by 16th century Safed Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Machir, begins with the words “Modeh Ani.” Each of us thanks God for “returning my soul to me.” Like many, for me, it used to be a rote recitation. I scarcely gave the words a thought.
No more. Now I sincerely thank Hashem for allowing me the blessings of another day, fully understanding that it is no longer something to take for granted.
What follows from this, for me, is that I try to make each day count.
We are warned (Avot 2:10) to repent a day before we die. Obviously, since we never know when that day may come, we have to be cognizant that each day may be our last.
This always true message resonated powerfully for me, as I have seen so many gedolim, as well as friends, neighbors and acquaintances who have been felled by this plague. Therefore, I am trying to make each day count, acutely conscious it may be my last.
I try not to focus on the limitations imposed by my paralysis and by the COVID-19-mandated isolation, but instead to linger on the positive.
As my wife and adult children are less busy, they have more time to interact with me, to our mutual enjoyment. There are also so many quality virtual shiurim available online from world-renowned rabbis, that I find myself able to learn more than ever, and I take in as much as I am able to absorb. And after quite a lapse, I have been able to resume creative writing again once again. I would be remiss if I did not express a heartfelt hakarat hatov (thanks) to my eshet chayil, Dr. Rachel C. Sarna who supported me in every possible way as I went through these tribulations.
In Ahava Rabba (Ahavat Olam) which we say before Shema, we pray that Hashem grant us to learn and to teach, to keep and to do (lilmod u’lelamed lishmor v’laasot), based on the Mishnah in Avot 4:5. I feel the current circumstances encourage me to get closer to being able to fulfill these lofty goals.
I still have many doubts and questions about what is happening and why. We all do. But I have had questions before. Why did I stroke? Why did my kidneys fail? There aren’t good or easy answers. Job wrestled with the same questions. Searching for answers is OK and part of the human condition.
My good friend Dr. Alan Flashman, a distinguished psychiatrist, has written about the darkness during these uncertain times, where the unknown is so much greater than the known. He suggests it might be a time of what the Kabbalists call berur or sorting out, and in the end things will become clarified. It’s not an approach that he himself is entirely comfortable with, being more comfortable with making decisions and accepting responsibility. This is not possible in the current circumstances. We just don’t know.
In the Gemara in Zevachim 90a, we read that there is no joy like the resolution of doubt. It is a profound comment, but gets us no closer to satisfaction until the unknown becomes clarified.
How do we deal with this conundrum? We realize that Hashem’s ways are often hidden from us. But we also know, as Rabbi Akiva stated, that “Everything that the Almighty does, is for good” (Berachot 60b). This dictum was codified as law in the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Hayim 46:15). I have found it to be not only Jewish law, but also true and wise. It has gotten me through the tough times before.
Hashem works in many ways, among them through first responders and medical professionals, all doing Hashem’s work. It is proper to pray for them. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the UK composed a prayer for them, which can be recited at any time. It praises “doctors, nurses, all healthcare professionals and key workers, who tirelessly seek to heal and help those affecting, while in doing so put themselves at risk.” All these have been working long hours for our benefit.
Above all, we need to be strong and to keep Hashem’s Torah (Joshua 1:8). Then, this too shall pass.
David E. Y. Sarna is a retired engineer, entrepreneur and author.