“ALL THE WORLD is a very narrow bridge. And the main thing to recall is to have no fear, to have no fear at all.”
Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslev’s words are profoundly wise in this time of crisis.
The Hebrew words have been put to a beautiful melody and Jews often turn to this song when faced with tragedy. The words tell us that our world is just a bridge to yet another realm and that fear does not help us in difficult times.
These Jewish principles have strengthened us during multiple tragedies over the centuries when we were blamed and then massacred for “causing” the Black Plague in the 14th century, herded into concentration camps, died by the millions during the Holocaust, and shot in our synagogues in recent years.
Even now there are those blaming Jews for the spread and exploitation of the COVID-19 virus. We are not surprised when antisemitism has risen its ugly head, making Jews the scapegoats yet again. We’ve seen it for thousands of years, and as always, we seek solace in the words of our faith.
The Torah has great wisdom to help us through difficult times.
Over the next several weeks we will read about the sudden and untimely death of Aaron’s sons, Sarah being infected with leprosy and isolated from the community, and orders given for people and houses to be cleansed.
The parallels of the Biblical stories to the pandemic we face today teach us timeless lessons. We are shocked into action by the death toll from COVID-19, are told to practice social distancing, and focus on sanitizing ourselves and our homes. The things we can do to stop the spread of this virus are the same as in ancient times.
Passover begins next week and we remember in the Passover story that God used plagues to force the Pharaoh to let our people go.
In our seders we recount that those plagues were what led to their freedom.
Though we will be joining our friends and loved ones online for our seders, we will not let the virus stop us from celebrating this important festival.
A recent joke expressed some dark humor about the irony of not letting a plague cancel Passover.
As we are watching this pandemic sweep the world, creating sickness, death, fear and anxiety, we must keep perspective and remain grateful for all we have.
Look for the good, the silver linings, appreciate the simple things, savor the time with our loved ones and know we are not alone.
By comparing our situation to that of others who have faced adversity, we can gain perspective.
When we complain about having to stay home, remember those who have no home, those in refugee camps or in immigration detention centers.
Most of us are healthy, have a roof over our head and food to eat, and yet we grumble and bemoan our situation.
Remember despite our isolation, we are still able to go outside, see spring bursting forth and breathe fresh air.
It might be good to recall that Anne Frank spent over two years with seven others in a space that was slightly less than 500 square feet, all the while having to remain quiet so as not to arouse the suspicion of those working in the warehouse below.
During that time she was unable to see the sky, feel the rain or sun, or walk on the grass.
Once discovered, her family was sent to Auschwitz and then Bergen-Belsen where, two months before liberation, she and her sister died of typhus — an infection common when living in close, unsanitary conditions.
When we remember those who are suffering now or have suffered throughout history, maybe staying at home, taking walks, watching movies, reading, playing games and FaceTiming our friends and family doesn’t seem so hard after all.
We can also gain perspective when we hear the many stories of individuals giving of themselves to bring joy to others during this crisis — and of the risks taken by all the medical professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, delivery people and others who face possible infection while making sure we have our needs met.
Let us pray that God gives strength, knowledge, skills and wisdom to the medical community and scientists so they can find a way to end this suffering soon.
May we always remember what beauty there can be in a simpler life and how little we actually need for true joy.
The desire to live each day meaningfully was the prayer of Moses expressed by King David in Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days…that we may cultivate a wise heart.”
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.