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03/20/2020 01:25:00 PM


Rabbi Yehuda Septimus

My sister sent me a meme that had gone viral in Israel within hours of the Ministry of Education announcing that it was closing the schools. It read: “Wait a second; you’re closing the schools with the children inside, right?”

It’s a sentiment that many parents with young children can relate to, especially now that we’ve just made it (or at least sort of made it) through our first week without school – and the space it and our jobs all afford us. And we don’t even know how many more weeks like this there are ahead of us. Of course, then there are others who rather than feeling beleaguered, are feeling isolated, especially those who don’t have the blessing of young children in their homes, who have empty houses and a different set of worries.

But this basic difference only underscores something more fundamental that cannot be stressed enough for coping during this unprecedented time – the importance of realizing that every human being is different and therefore responds differently than everyone else to the very same health crisis that the entire world is experiencing.

As I prepare for our second Shabbos without shul I am thinking about all of the things I miss about our shul. I miss our idiosyncrasies, our quirks, and the countless things that make us uniquely YINW. As the publisher of this esteemed daily once said regarding a YINW Purim shpiel: “The material writes itself.” To me, however, this is the other side of the coin of something deeply positive. Our people care. We care enough to be our genuine selves and to give of our genuine selves to everyone around us. We care enough to show our deepest and truest compassion to the people around us. We recognize that HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants us to bring all of ourselves into shul (as long as that self isn't talking during davenning!).

Ironically, as I think about not having all of you to daven with this Shabbos my mind turns to a beracha we recite on the – very rare – occasion that we see 600,000 Jews in one place (Berachot 58a):

לזה זה דומים פרצופיהן ואין לזה זה דומה דעתם שאין הרזים חכם ברוך אומר ישראל אוכלוסי הרואה

One who sees multitudes of Israel recites: Blessed [are You, God, King of the universe] Knower of secrets. [The Gemara then explains:] Because He sees a whole nation, whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other. Rashi on “Who knows all secrets,” explains, אלו כל שבלב מה היודע, "He knows what is in each of their hearts…"

Yes, it is ironic that I’m talking about seeing ישראל אוכלוסי, large groups of Jews, at a time that we’re not supposed to be with large groups – or any groups at all for that matter. That said, I actually think the sentiment here is specifically applicable now more than ever.

Because often at times of crisis we expect that everyone is experiencing the same thing…but in reality the same thing – the threat of coronavirus – is experienced extremely differently by different people. And when we walk around and expect that just because I’m in panic mode someone else is in panic mode, or just because I’m in "do what I have to do to stay safe but don’t think about it mode" that that’s the mode other people are in, then I am up for some real disappointment. Because each of us responds with a different soul, and a unique nervous system, and our own personal history. And so we all respond to crises and threats differently. Which is why I am so appreciative to Jordan for giving us this context to experience different people’s responses to the crisis.

Remembering how different each one of us is can be easier when those people aren't the people closest to us, the people on whom we most depend. In contrast, seeing how differently the people closest to us respond to the same crisis we are experiencing, can too often create a feeling of isolation even greater than physical isolation. It is at those times that we must remember that it is precisely those differences that are part of the reason we love our loved ones. It is what makes them, them. The more we can begin to truly internalize the reality that only HaKadosh Baruch Hu can appreciate just how different each of us is from the other, the more we will be able to draw strength from one another. Strength in connection. And strength in difference.

By: Rabbi Yehuda Septimus

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782