By Sharon Freundel
Here is how my second one-on-one weekly date with my friend and confidante God went.
I davened shacharit (prayed the morning service) and then went to read the parshah (Torah portion). As I am blessed to have learned to lain (read Torah with cantillation) in 1973, last week and this, I read with ta’amei hamikra (trope marks). When I reached the end of the Torah portion Pikudei, I sang “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.” Literally, “Be strong, be strong, and we will derive strength from one another.”
That’s when the floodgates opened.
Those of you who know me will know that I am not much of a crier. But I sobbed and wailed for a good 10 minutes, and then began ranting at God: “Why have You done this to Your beautiful world? What were You thinking?”
Then the end of the book of Iyov (Job) came to memory, and I apologized. “I know that I was not there when You laid the foundations of the world. I know that the gates of death have not been disclosed to me. So let me change the question, God. What have we, as humans, done to deserve Your pouring out Your wrath upon us, and what can we do to reverse this gezairah (decree)?”
I fully believe that this plague has descended on us as a decree from heaven above. I also fully believe that each of us needs to do our own cheshbon hanefesh (soul-searching) to figure out what the message is for us. And that no one can determine for anyone else why this has occurred or what someone else needs to metaphysically do to reverse it. We are not in an era of prophecy and there is not one human being alive who can discern the divine will or who can speak on behalf of God.
In the spirit of “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,” I pray that God send strength to:
• Those already suffering from the ravages of this disease
• Older (and younger) people who are alone and feeling isolated
• Parents of school-aged children who need to deal with their children in positive, productive ways while coping with their own anxiety and stress
• Families who are separated by social distancing
• Health care workers who by needs are exposing themselves day in and day out to care for the ill and infirm
• Postal workers, supermarket clerks, restaurant workers, delivery people, public
transportation drivers, first responders, teachers, spiritual leaders, and others who are still out there working to create some semblance of normal life for the rest of us
• Those who have lost their jobs already due to the world being shut down
• All of humanity: God, please have mercy upon us and guide us to the refuah (cure) for this makkah (plague)!
One final thought: an interesting juxtaposition occurs in the book of Tehillim (Psalms). Chapter 22 is a gut-wrenching expression of despair: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me, why are You far from my salvation, from the words of my anguished cry?”
The very next chapter is (I believe) purposely put there to remind us that “Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I do not fear evil, for You are with me.”
And the following chapter, number 24, reminds us that “The earth is God’s, and everything that fills it up, the world, and those who dwell in it.”
When we find ourselves despairing, the Psalmist reminds us that God is with us and that the All-Merciful is, indeed, in control of the world.
May the Almighty bring mercy to the world sooner rather than later and show us the way out of this crisis.
Sharon Freundel is the managing director of Jewish Education Innovation Challenge.