Rabbi Mark ZimmermanRemember just a few weeks ago when everything in life seemed fairly normal?
This is life. Things are going along just fine. Then something happens that dramatically turns your world upside down. A child gets injured, a parent falls suddenly ill, or you have a car accident. Suddenly, the small things you thought were important are now completely irrelevant.
Rabbis often get those kinds of phone calls from others who suddenly find themselves thrust into crisis mode. But when a crisis such as the current pandemic strikes ALL OF US, much of our pastoral training seems inadequate.
Everybody’s life has indeed turned up-side-down. I think of all the simchas, the b’nai mitzvah, weddings and more that are now being put on hold. Even the Olympics are being postponed for a year to 2021. Imagine the athletes who have trained years for this moment, and who now must also put those dreams on hold.
During our seders, we will read a passage from our haggadah which states: b’chol dor va’dor chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza mi-mitzrayim, in every generation a person is to see him/herself as if they personally left Egypt. While it is not possible to actually experience the pain and redemption of our ancestors, we are supposed to try and feel as if we ourselves experienced the bitterness of slavery and took part in the Exodus. This exercise helps us to better understand the enormity of those events.
Likewise, when we try to empathize and comfort others in their time of need, we go a long way in helping to make the world a better place.
And so, this is one of the important lessons that Passover teaches us, namely, that when we remember and identify with the struggles of our past, we are better able to face the challenges that lie ahead in the future. That’s why we retell the story of the Exodus every year at our seder tables; and likely we will all be telling stories about the coronavirus for years to come. These struggles can be difficult to face, yet they underscore how we are all bound together. When we face a crisis together, we work to create the kind of caring community that will make our lives worth living and ultimately more meaningful.
Let us remember that “Gam Zu Yaavor” – this crisis too shall pass. Let’s celebrate the blessings we have been privileged to enjoy in the past, with hopes for a better tomorrow.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Dunwoody and past president of The Rabbinical Assembly, Southeast Region.