Silver linings
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Silver linings

Elchanan Weinbach is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Israel in Montebello. He has been a pulpit rabbi for 13 years, a school head for 15 years, and a consultant, presenter, or scholar in residence in New York, Kansas City, and Florida, and at LimmudLA.

A sign of the times — this Teaneck restaurant looks forward with hope. (Jamie Janoff)
A sign of the times — this Teaneck restaurant looks forward with hope. (Jamie Janoff)

My friend Dan thinks the messiah is coming. Really!

He’s always been a silver-linings kind of guy. With cruise ships and hotels and other accoutrements of luxury being converted to assets to help people through this crisis, perhaps there’s something to be said for his positivity. As for me, no dark cloud escapes my careful inspection. In part, this is my trained reaction — to try to control anything that makes me uncomfortable — and so I try to plan my way through every contingency. My plans? God is having a good laugh.

My wife and I have been empty-nesters for about two years. Like everything else in life it’s a trade-off, but we’ve become accustomed to having just the two of us around. Of course I can plan for a busier future, hopefully filled with my kids’ spouses and grandchildren, but for now it’s the quiet life. That is, until in the span of three days two of my children moved back home, one because his university is online only and the other because his job furloughed him for three months and he lives where he works.

At a time like this, it is so comforting to be around family, and we were so happy to have all of our children home (except the one who went on aliyah) for the first Shabbat during this crisis. Our time spent together was important, comforting, and meaningful, yet with all of us under so much stress and dealing with so much uncertainty it was not as easy to provide support as I would have hoped. Even more frustrating for the control freak in me is that my adult children decided to go into social isolation somewhere other than at home, with their mother and father. I can hear myself in my head pleading to them: More than anything I want to protect you…

To no avail; words therefore better not spoken.

My wife is a teacher at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. God bless our teachers; so many of them are working tirelessly, even amidst the intense distraction of having their children home, to provide education for their students. And not the education they planned! A whole new modality of delivery, new demands for technical skills and presentation skills, and teaching children whose attention span online is even more challenged than usual. From what I can see, their efforts are heroic.

After four years, my routine in the synagogue has become fairly well-settled. Attend morning service, practice the Torah reading, read something that helps me prepare for upcoming classes and talks, call everybody with a yahrzeit coming up, field phone calls; and then of course on Shabbat I lead services and deliver a sermon. It’s a nice plan, until I have to manage to perform my responsibilities in a completely new way, and ironically, the only day of the week I’m not making phone calls, doing Facebook live prayer services, or producing short videos of Torah content is Shabbat. I actually got to rest on Shabbat! The rest of the week will not be so easy.

Dan, I don’t know if the messiah is coming because of this crisis, but I do know that we all have been wrenched out of our normal routines. And for all the dark clouds, for all of the problems and challenges, we might do well to consider another silver lining: We have all been wrenched out of our routines, and routine is the enemy of spirituality. We have all been thrust into a world where we have the opportunity to act responsibly with our choices to protect the lives of other people. Awakened from our trance, we have the opportunity to support people who are going through immense challenges physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Faced with a life and death situation — many of us for the first time — we are beginning, haltingly perhaps, to find our voices when speaking to God.

Families are spending much more time together, people are cleaning away years of accumulated excess possessions, and many of us are discovering that life without 24/6 sports not only goes on, but is better. With so much time not being spent on commuting, more time can be spent studying Torah subjects, or tuning in to the plethora of new offerings being put out by, well, everybody.

My conversations with my siblings, friends, and family are longer and deeper. So many people are doing so much good for other people. Heroes are being born every moment, especially in the medical community; God bless our first responders, nurses, and doctors who continue to protect and help us, at mortal risk to themselves.

I don’t know if this crisis heralds the coming of the messiah, and we are all in for a great deal of pain and suffering in the weeks to come, but let’s pay attention to the small shards of silver at the edge of the clouds. Messiah or not, better days will come from this.

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