From The Rabbi’s Desk
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
Christopher Robin, from Winnie the pooh
Rosh Hashanah comes every year and it could be easy to fall into the habit of treating it as ‘just another Rosh Hashanah’. But it’s a time of renewal and a fresh view. This year it is especially relevant and as a young Rabbi in a special community I want to ask you to think about what Rosh Hashanah can really mean, for us all, this year.
Thinking back to my life a year ago, I would have laughed in disbelief if someone had told me that I was going to spend a huge proportion of 2020 in social isolation, not able to go to cafes, socialise, visit my grandmother or even go to Shule. Even a few months ago, this would have been an unfathomable scenario that no one would have believed.
As we entered into the 21st century, the world acclimatised to a different epoch to the one that our parents and grandparents had known. We were suddenly able to communicate with people on the other side of the globe at the click of a button, translate languages by copying and pasting a dialogue into Google translate, and fly across the world at the drop of a hat, all for a fraction of the price it cost previous generations.
Moreover, we took for granted that most illnesses that we encountered as humanity, were able to be cured, or at least mitigated by antibiotics, vaccines or anti-retroviral drugs.
These past few months have flipped all that we know on its head. A virus, an invisible pathogen wreaking havoc on our lives in a cataclysmic upheaval of death, economic collapse and uncertainty.
The lives that we once led and took for granted are no more, and we are a changed society, marred by the trauma of what the whole international community is going through.
We have learned that public health emergencies require a colossal, all-encompassing response, where the actions of each person have enormous consequences.
One asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 can shut down a city. One person with a sore throat can cause hundreds of people to go into isolation for 14 days. We have learnt that we need each other, to work together for community safety and ensure every country has the best chance of recovery. We have all had to socially-distance from one another. “Man plans and G-d laughs” is the famous Yiddish saying that has repeated through my mind in the past few months. I think back to all my plans that were cancelled at the start of the pandemic, and I have learnt to not get attached to plans. This is our new normal.
So far we have experienced a socially-isolated Pesach, Lag Ba-Omer and Shavuot, as we were unable to congregate at Shule. We weren’t able to celebrate weddings as we would have liked, nor bid farewell to our loved ones as they passed away. We all wanted to be surrounded by our community and all its love, yet this has been the year of getting to know ourselves a bit better, without the comfort of social interaction.
And yet, as we sit here right at the cusp of the Jewish new year of 5781, there is a pervading sentiment of optimism. We are about to enter better days. Here in Australia at the time of writing, we have been largely successful in rallying around each other, adhering to strict isolation requirements and, in doing so, seriously pushing back this virus.
As we re-enter into a semblance of our usual lives, there is a new world order that we must adhere to. This is our life, and we are so blessed to be living in Australia, one of the world’s safest countries. We are so lucky that we are able to bear witness to this huge historical event, where we are watching unfold medical miracles of incredibly fast vaccine developments, as well as the most wonderful outpouring of kindness and humanity that we seldom see on such an international scale.
Yet, people are still dying from COVID-19, and we are counting for better days.
Jewish tradition has an interesting view of counting. There are many instances of a census being taken in the Torah, which the sages have explained to mean, that G-d loves and cares for us as one cares for precious objects.
The omniscient G-d counts us because he treasures us, as though we are his most prized possessions.
Likewise, with our tradition, we are counting toward our High Holy Days, demonstrating how precious and important they are to us. This counting not only symbolises the beginning of our redemption as an enslaved nation in Egypt as retold on Passover, celebrated on Shavuot and renewed on Rosh Hashanah, but it also provides us with a framework for our lives. We count in anticipation, striking the days off the calendar and conveying a sense of excitement and longing to be close to G-d.
So as we count with bated breath, hoping for this pandemic to come to an end, we acknowledge that we are living in a uniquely difficult time and count toward the better days which are surely ahead in this next year.
It is a tradition for us to wish each other a Shana Tova U’Metukah, a Happy Sweet New Year during this time period. This year I would like to add to this blessing – I wish you and your families
a year full of safety and perspective, a year of stability and kindness, a year of thankfulness and appreciation.
How exceedingly lucky we are to be living in such a wonderful and blessed country, Australia.
With Blessings, Rabbi Gabi