19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
חדש! יש גם גרסה בעברית
‘Twas the night before Exodus and all through the tent, not a creature was leaving, not till the event. We find a version of that in Parshat Hachodesh, the special maftir we read on the Shabbat preceding our first month of year, Nissan. Moshe is preparing the Israelites for their coming liberation from Egypt, which will be preceded by the most fatal of all the plagues, the killing of the first born.
On Pesach eve in Egypt, on the cusp of the exodus, families were told to stay indoors, huddled together, ready to ride – robes fastened, sandals afoot, hiking staffs in hand. They were to roast and eat the pascal lamb, either as a family or with their neighbors if their families were too small for a whole lamb.
How different our pre-Pesach period is this year. We too are being told to stay home but not in any way with other families, and the restrictions are becoming more draconian. Social distance is the rule. And we are not preparing to move out but rather to hunker down for as long as it takes. And we are not the only ones doing this. Across Europe and in the US the same script is being acted out.
The differences between then and now are greater than the obvious restrictions on movement. In both cases, the future is being weighed. The Israelites were told that their wait would be short, one night, and then they would march out, heads held high in jubilation and triumph. We, on the other hand, are being told to pull in the walls, cut ourselves off, protect ourselves for no one knows how long.
Is this Armageddon? If so, where’s the action, the battle? Or did T.S. Eliot get it right [pardon the update]: “This is how our life style ends, not with a bang but with a whimper”?
Novelists have written about mysterious viruses that extinguish large swathes of population, for example Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain.” Dean Koontz’s 1982 horror novel, “The Eyes of Darkness,” describes a virus that emanated from Wuhan China at about this time. Bill Gates gave a TED talk in 2015 predicting the damage wrought by a terrorist virus.
A cynic might call this type of pandemic a form of population control. After we have managed to reduce mortality from a long list of once-fatal diseases, new ones are bound to come around. Or perhaps this is a way of “resetting” or “rebooting” our way of life. Globalization giving way to isolation. Liberalism to nationalism and racism (as if any help was needed in that department). When this crisis is over we will most likely return to our global way of life, but a little more cautiously, at least for a while. Many economies will have to start rebuilding from the ground up, much to the distress of individuals whose livelihoods were negatively affected.
Dr. Micha Goodman opines that the corona plague shows us the limitations of our power. We think we control our lives, but we don’t. He compares this to the ten plagues and their effect on Pharaoh, who realizes that he is not in control.
In today’s double parsha we read about the culmination of a building process and the beginning of a new world for the Israelites, one in which the center of life revolves around the tabernacle. The people, individually and as a whole, contributed materials for the building process, and master builders oversaw the actual construction. All is ready for use now.
One question that arises is why so much detail – almost 12 whole chapters – is devoted to the building of the tabernacle in comparison to the measly one and a half chapters given to the creation of the world? The Malbim offers this idea. The actual details of the construction are as important symbolically as factually. They are intended to emphasize the importance of every single element of the tabernacle. The tabernacle also symbolizes each of us. Just as each item in the tabernacle had to be made of a specific type of cloth, wood or metal, so our inner selves must be constructed of elements that are just right to make us into the individuals we should be. The tabernacle is our connection to the divine, and our internal tabernacle must also be suitably equipped.
It is very possible that we will have a lot of isolation time. Some will devote time to cleaning up for Pesach. Others will settle in with their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and whatever other programs are popular to keep their social lives functioning virtually. Perhaps some time should also be allotted to examining our inner lives for what they really are.
We don’t know how long this pandemic will last. We of course hope that the steps being taken by the government will save us from the severity of the epidemic as experienced in Italy and Spain and enable us to weather the storm with minimum damage to our persons and our economy.
Just as the tabernacle was a joint effort, it is clear that only unified action by our entire population will keep the epidemic statistics in our favor. It is also important to remember that even in isolation we are community, one that works to ensure the wellbeing of all its members. And soon, we will reband and return to what we call…normal.
Shabbat Shalom and good health to us all.