Back to Basics

The human condition is simultaneously remarkable for its resilience and troubling for its obtuseness.

We are now in the protracted process of emerging from a pandemic, a lockdown, a total change in our lives, the likes of which haven’t been seen for many generations.

On the one hand, we are absolutely amazed by the resilience of our nation. Yidden, despite everything, somehow adapted to the new reality. Whether it was hunkering down at home, davening, learning, playing, or keeping families busy in confined spaces, so much has already been written that it is superfluous to again highlight the greatness of Klal Yisroel in all its hues and shades.

At the same time, there was something troubling, something niggling at the back of my consciousness, as the famous Yiddish aphorism that translates roughly into, “We should never be tested to see what we can get accustomed to,” kept replaying itself in my head. The human condition is such that somehow, survival instinct kicks in. We humans can become accustomed to living in pretty awful, non-optimal conditions. I fervently hope that we will never be tested again.

That said, in a certain way, many of us have become accustomed to living under the corona crisis. That adapting brings a tremendous drawback. It clouds our vision. In the quest to adapt, it makes us forget what we had and for what we have to be thankful.

I think, as we return to a semblance of pre-corona life, that it is incumbent upon us to compile a checklist of things to appreciate and things we should never again take for granted. Every person at every stage of life may have somewhat of a different checklist, but here are some things that came to mind:

Our Health

One thing that virtually everyone realized was just how precarious the word “healthy” can be. Yes, the virus struck the elderly in greater numbers, but plenty of young people passed away and so many more wondered at some point during their ordeal if they would make it. Modern medicine, with its solutions for so many once-fatal maladies, has given us a false sense of security. As Yidden, we should really think for more than a few seconds each day how lucky we are to be alive and healthy, thanking Hashem for that. For a few weeks during Chodesh Nissan, I don’t think anyone thought that they had a contract to remain healthy.

Our Families

Because of the frenetic pace of our lives in 2020, pre-corona, we often didn’t “have the time” or take the time to properly appreciate or even interact meaningfully with our own family members, and I don’t mean second cousins once removed. I mean our spouses, our children, and our parents. All of us are so busy with “important” things in our frenzied lives that we often just passed our spouse in the hallway or kitchen while grabbing supper, sufficing with giving our children a smile, but not much else. Some of us also took our parents’ love for granted and did not honor them, care for them, and worry about them as we should.

I am not placing blame. There are many reasons why we have crazy lives, and most are not our fault. Most have to do with the unreasonable burden placed on families by living what we call “frum life,” with all its financial, communal and social “obligations.” Unfortunately, even in the aftermath of Covid-19, it does not look like we have strong enough leadership (or followership) to try changing, modifying or mitigating the “burdens” of frum-living-self-imposed-strictures that have nothing to do with Yiddishkeit and Hashem, and everything to do with the faults, foibles and lack of middos that comprise the human condition.

During Covid-19, however, we were able to get to know our families just a little bit better. Fathers, especially, but mothers too, got to know and understand their children better and were usually amazed at how wonderful they are. Spouses actually became reacquainted and were better able to appreciate the different components, hurdles, goals and daily challenges that the other spouse experiences. Siblings living under the same roof really began to know each other, appreciate each other, and interact meaningfully.

Children had a chance to see how much their parents care about them and how hard some of them work to ensure that their children’s needs are met.

Rabbeim and Teachers

We have seen firsthand the devotion of the vast majority of rabbeim and teachers. They invest so much in their talmidim and students and go above and beyond their comfort zones to try teaching Torah to the children. Of course, we always understood what an integral role they played in the lives of our children, but we took them for granted in some ways…unfortunately. I hope that in the future, many of us will not.

The Telephone

Just imagine for a second what the isolation and lockdown during the pandemic would have been like without the telephone. Aside from the fact that for most of the Yated’s readership, nearly all chadorim, girls’ schools, yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs ran their educational platform via conference lines, the telephone was our social lifeline. It enabled children to communicate constantly with elderly parents. It enabled boys and girls to have constant contact with friends and carry on with their social lives despite everything. It enabled harried mothers to have a tool with which to commiserate and get tips from friends facing the same ordeal. Yes, even in our advanced technical age, the simple telephone was a critical component in keeping us sane.

The computer also played a very strong role, especially in those communities where Zoom was used frequently. It served as a primary news source (and, sadly for some, also an entertainment source). Nevertheless, if we thought phones were obsolete, we should think again.

Davening

I know that as shuls start reopening, we are filled with relief and simcha at the opportunity to return to shul with all that being there entails. Nevertheless, there is virtually no serious person with whom I have spoken who does not admit that in some ways, his davening experience has been greatly enriched by the lockdown, when we were all forced to daven on our own. The greatest maalah of davening with a minyan is often its greatest chisaron. In shul, you are, in many ways, davening in a “Sedom bed,” following the standard of the tzibbur. The amount of time that is allowed and the way we express ourselves to Hashem when others are looking is limiting. It often doesn’t allow for the focus on uninhibited avodah shebelev that is such an integral component of tefillah. I think that even the many of us who deeply missed our shuls still found the opportunity to intimately connect with Hashem to be a very refreshing enhancement to our tefillah and our relationship with Him.

Perhaps we should all try, at least once a week, to privately closet ourselves in a room and say some Tehillim or just talk to Him. There is no reason why the forced experiment of davening to Hashem alone cannot in some way be maintained.

  • Our Community

Although, as a community, we sustained much angst and economic hardship, the way we were there for each other fills me with such a sense of fortune to be part of the frum world. There were friends, neighbors and, if necessary, chesed organizations that stepped up to the plate in so many ways, relieving the burden of those who could not make it on their own. The way we are there for one another is remarkable. We are so accustomed to it that we don’t realize how amazing it is. It is the envy of other communities, whether we like it or not.

A Word of Caution

That said, there is one area where perhaps tremendous improvement is required. This golus is so benevolent and, historically speaking, things here have been so good for Jews that perhaps we don’t realize how different we look, act and conduct ourselves than the host culture. This often attracts unwanted attention to us and our conduct. When any person in our community flouts communal or legal norms, such as not ensuring social distancing at gatherings, simchos, shul-going, etc., aside from the fact that it is wrong, it also tarnishes our entire community and our way of life in ways that can haunt us in the future, when we will need the goodwill of our neighbors and elected officials.

The am chochom venavon really needs to be educated and made to understand that nothing happens in our world that cannot be broadcast nationally within a matter of minutes. With all of our amazing maalos enumerated above, I wonder: Why are we sometimes so stupid?