Tonight begins eleven days, which is one week and four days of the Omer in the year 5780. נצח שבגבורה, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Enduring Will of Strength, Eternal Judgment.
What is your vision for yourself?
My primary question when I want to understand someone deeply is: what is your vision for yourself? Not what do you do for a living, how smart are your kids, do you love your spouse. You, the distinct, physically separate entity that is you: who do you see yourself as today and who do you want to become?
I don’t think we allow ourselves the time to sink into that question enough. People lose themselves in being of service to their community. They can lose themselves in supporting their partner or their children. We don’t cultivate enough curiosity about the world within ourselves.
The Gift of Time and Reflection
The greates gift I’ve given myself in the last five weeks of isolation is picking up a Psalter. Though, to be perfectly honest, that sounds like a completely goyish term. Like a stereotypical Jew, I couldn’t pick up one book of psalms, I had to pick up two. I didn’t go for three or four because there’s only so much time in the day, and I wanted to produce something from my daily meditation, not just sink deeper into my books.
I’ve been feeling off kilter all day because I didn’t read a psalm this morning. I made time to put on makeup and read Facebook, but not the psalm. I’ll get back to it tomorrow. Like a page of Talmud, the daily psalm is a spiritual practice I want to use for myself; I don’t want to lose myself in service of the practice. Could I have gone to sleep earlier and read the psalm rather than Facebook? Absolutely. But it isn’t the choice I made on this Sunday, my first day back to school as a teacher (at 9:!5 a.m.) and as a student (at 1:05 p.m.). So now my day is done and I’m trying to lightly meditate into Netzach of Gevurah.
God Deciding Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?
Eternal Judgment sounds completely anachronistic. I cannot tell you how many boring Rosh Hashanah sermons I sat through as a child, reminding us that God is sitting on His throne in judgment as we pass before him, determining who will live and who will die in the coming year. If that theology speaks to you, I pray your faith is able to sustain itself through this present uncertainty. I truly wish no ill to anyone, regardless of whether we agree with one another theologically or not.
That’s not the Eternal Judgment that calls to me.
Eternal Judgment: Knowing Right from Wrong
What calls to me is knowing right from wrong. Understanding that no matter how hard a child has worked, their Bat Mitzvah will have to be done over Zoom at this time. That it makes no sense to be together for any reason other than essential services. And that I pray that every company we have purchased things from in the past five weeks has enacted true social distancing in their distribution centers and throughout their shipping process.
It is knowing that there is a better and worse way for me to be present with my family and with my community. I can choose whether to attend class (and frankly, whether to teach class). My children cannot choose who they live with. So I have to do everything in my power to be the best steward of their time as I can possibly be. This is the Eternal Judgment I feel weighing on me.
Acknowledging and Living with Fear
Writing unshackles my soul from the anxieties of my ego. Weighed down by my fears. Fierce mama bear, I have no desire to send my children to camp or to school until there are treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19. I say this even though these have been the longest five weeks of my life. Yet, I am not completely wrapped in a bubble of fear. Praying people choose to continue to have children. I cannot tell you how excited I was that a woman I barely know posted a baby bump photo on Instagram. Beyond excited to see new life, to read about the struggles and joys of my friends with babies.
So yes, I fear the end of social distancing because I have such a strong belief in the importance of every single life. That is the Eternal Judgment I hold most dear. If our retirement stock accounts lose all of their money, so be it. If that’s what it takes to keep a single person alive, it will have been worth it. That’s what the Jewish statement that to save a life is to save a world means. It is not just a catchy phrase. There is substance behind the platitude. No business, no economy, no country is worth a single life. Now, I also fully recognize the mental health toll this is taking on all of us. And I deeply understand the desire for normality to return.
Leaning into the Enduring Will of Strength
Yet we can also take this time to find within us the Enduring Will of Strength. We can imagine a new tomorrow, by preserving through today. Do we have the strength to clean our own bathrooms? To juggle full-time work with full-time childcare? Can we make space for our colleagues and direct reports who are parents? What is the depth of our Enduring Will of Strength?