What’s the takeaway from COVID-19?

Dear Rabbi Fried,

In the beginning of the pandemic, we were hearing a lot about what we are to learn from it and what to take away from all that has come down as a result of it. Now that people are being vaccinated it seems like the whole thing is beginning to wind down (which is a good thing!), but at the same time, to tell the truth, I don’t feel like I’m really walking away with anything concrete in my life that’s different because of it. It would be a real shame to have gone through all of this and then, at the end, just say “Phew, I made it through!” like to wear a T-shirt saying, “I survived COVID.” Just for that I don’t think the whole thing is worth it; G-d must have had more in mind for us to come away with. Any suggestions?

Mordechai L.

Dear Mordechai,

I’m with you! I think that most thinking people share your struggle and are feeling empty not to have a concrete takeaway from all this. (By the way, in the meantime it’s still far from over, but it’s not too early to give thought to the future!)

Just today I heard a beautiful thought from one of America’s leading rabbis, Rabbi Shraga Neuberger of the Ner Israel Yeshiva of Baltimore, who was scholar-in-residence at a local synagogue, Ohr HaTorah, regarding this very question. 

The rabbi said that since COVID-19 he bows a little deeper and a little longer when he recites the “modim” prayer of the Amidah. It is proper for one to bow at the beginning and end of that blessing, a thanksgiving prayer which expresses our appreciation for all that we have and for life itself. Now, since COVID-19, through which we have sadly lost so many precious Jewish souls, community leaders and sages, and so many special “regular” Jews, he thinks to himself, “Why me? Why was I spared when so many were taken around me?’’ So he bows a bit more deeply and takes an extra moment to reflect on his appreciation for the gift of life itself.

He continued to say that just expressing the appreciation is not enough. Each one of us should find something concrete to begin to do, or take something we already do and do it better, as an expression for our appreciation to the Al-mighty for the gift of life. 

When asked what should be the takeaway for Klal Yisrael, he replied that such a question requires sages far greater than himself. But for each individual, he can just say that we all need to find something, some mitzvah, some kindness, some action, that will continue to remind each of us for decades that we appreciate the gift of life despite COVID-19. Whatever it is that we take on, it should be for life. Decades from now we should be able to tell our children and great-grandchildren that the reason we do such-and-such is because we lived through a difficult time called the COVID-19 pandemic and do this to express appreciation for living through it.

Why this is happening, nobody can answer. I often say that we have no prophets today to tell us “thus says G-d” and have clarity. But if we use this time as a catalyst to accept some new area of growth, something small which is sustainable and can be accepted with integrity, this time will not have been for naught. 

May this end soon, but with the Jewish people on a higher plane that we went into it!

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