Today’s Bissel Torah was written by Dr. Andrew Lovinger.
This past Shabbat we read the special parashah for the Intermediate Shabbat of Pesach, which has a memorable theme that resonates with our times. It deals with the age-old human desire to know and see God, and how it was fulfilled through God’s glorious manifestation to Moses. We read that Moses pleads for God to appear visibly before him, and God answers (ch. 33, v. 19): “I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Eternal before you, and I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion.” And indeed this is what happened, as we read in ch. 34, vv. 6-7: “And Adonai passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed: Adonai, Adonai, God of compassion and grace, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and truth, maintaining kindness for thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” Of course, we recognize these verses as the 13 Attributes of God’s Mercy, which we chant repeatedly throughout the High Holidays and also when we take out the Torah on other holidays.
In the midst of the current global pandemic, reading about God’s manifestation to Moses and God’s compassion to the Israelites reminds me of something I heard from my parents when I was a child. During the Holocaust, both my parents were captured by the Nazis and both, thank God, escaped separately. Not knowing that the other was alive, they eventually got reunited months later when they happened to be hidden in the same house by righteous Christians. My parents told me that the Jews living through those hellish years of the Holocaust were constantly asking and praying, “Is this not a time that God should manifest God’s presence once again and deliver us?” Today, many of us may be thinking the same as we live through the worst plague in a century. But the reality is that, just as then, so now too, nobody can know God’s plans. We cannot count on miracles. – but we can hope, pray, and have faith.
In fact, we may draw more strength and inspiration from the story of the deliverance of the Israelites that we read a few days ago at our Seders. The Haggadah describes in detail our enslavement and the miracles during the actual exodus from Egypt and up to the crossing of the sea through its parted waters. But the Haggadah says almost nothing about what happened after that (the only reference is a few stanzas in the Dayenu). So then, what happened after our deliverance? Did our ancestors get to the Promised Land right away? No, it took 40 years of wandering and suffering through the desert to realize that promise.
But, as we all know, this is not the whole story. In fact, not long after receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the Israelites did arrive just outside the Promised Land — but then turned away terrified by stories that Canaan is a land of fearsome giants. They became so panicked that they started grumbling against God and Moses and even wanted to return to Egypt! Being overcome by fear, despair, disunity, and loss of faith caused them to have to wander in vain through the wilderness for 40 years. And their wilderness was not just geographic — it was spiritual and emotional as well.
What all this teaches us is that, even in the face of our current unprecedented adversities, we must not lose faith or be overcome by fear; we must persevere, we must remain resilient, courageous, and hopeful. At this time in our lives, I think we all are reaching out for divine reassurance and comfort, just as Moses when he pleaded to see God, just as the European Jews at the time of the Holocaust. Whether miracles will occur in our lifetime we cannot know – but by keeping our faith and persevering through our challenges, we will pass through this current “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) and will reach the “Promised Land” where Covid will no longer be a threat and our lives will have returned to normal. May that day come soon!