Hope you had an easy and meaningful Tisha B’av fast. I just read this and was inspired by it, so sharing with you all!
Imagine it’s the year 2033. Covid has changed America forever. People have not gathered in large groups for 13 years. All children go to school online. All parties are on Zoom. It has been this way for 13 years. Now imagine that you’re the parent of a bar-mitzvah boy. Your son has been preparing for a year to read the Torah to his friends and family over Zoom. The day arrives, you turn on Zoom, and he does his thing. Everyone is clapping and singing, congratulations are offered. Toasts are made. Your son, the bar mitzvah boy, is beaming. You’ve never seen him so happy. Nothing takes away from his joy on this day. And why shouldn’t he jubilant? He has never known anything else. He was raised in a Covid world, where everything is done online. He’s been looking forward to his Zoom bar-mitzvah for years. This is how it’s done. He has no memory of the world before Covid.
But you, his parent, while proud and celebratory, find yourself hiding in the bathroom on this day, more than once, and quietly weeping for what once was. You cry not only because your son cannot have a ‘normal’ bar-mitzvah (your normal, not his), but also because your son does not even know that he is missing anything. So far removed is he from that reality, that he acts as if everything is as it should be; only you know that something is very wrong. The tragedy of the day is not that your son cannot have a real bar mitzvah. The tragedy is that he doesn’t even know what that is.
Guess what? We are that boy. We were raised in the diaspora; we never had the Temple, the sacrifices, prophecy, the feeling of God’s presence, never kept all the laws related to the land of Israel, etc. We go about our business as if this is Judaism, as if this is how it’s supposed to be, as if this is how it’s always been and how it always will be. But, the truth is, we’ve been in lockdown for 2000 years. For 2000 years our Judaism and our God has had to wear a mask. For 2000 years we have been socially distanced from Hashem. We are that happy bar-mitzvah boy who celebrates as if this is all there is; but, really, we have no idea what good is. We have no idea what God is.
Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit to make a point. We do know more than that boy in the story. Part of the genius of the Jewish people–and a key to our survival–is our memory. We remember what we never even experienced. We even have memories of the future. (That’s right! Through learning the Prophets, the future becomes a memory.) We have never become complacent. We have never forgotten that there is so much more than this. How have we done this? Through education, rituals, mitzvot, and through our prayers, which are filled with references to the Temple, the Redemption, and the yearning for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Am Yisrael is amazing. We’ve managed to live our lives in lockdown, but we never let ourselves accept lockdown. We never settled for lockdown. Every day we prayed for more. Every day we prayed for a return to normal. We rejoice. We make lavish bar-mitzvahs. But, always, in the midst of our joy, we remember Jerusalem. We never let ourselves forget that there is more than this. Only Am Yisrael can do this. Only Am Yisrael can dance in prison and still strive to get out of prison. We will do it, b’ezrat Hashem; because we know that this is not the way it’s supposed to be.
May our nation of Israel be freed from its 2000-year lockdown soon in our days!
Written by Rav Shais.