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The weathers warming up, some of us have ditched the masks, other people are trying to figure out if/when/where the masks are needed — and it’s confusing. We might have imagined some clear and definitive statement, like an old war ending with a surrender ceremony or a parade. No such luck — opinions about covid are as plentiful as ice cream flavors. So many people have simply moved on or tuned out. During the past couple of years there was some interesting writing about what kinds of lessons we might take to heart from this once-in-a-century upheaval. Personal question for each of us: Has this experience taught you anything about yourself or the people around you? Are there any changes in your outlook that come from living through all of this?
I think it’s worth asking because — in many ways — the world has changed. Shortly before the devastating final plague visited upon Egypt, when our ancestors were about to leave — and the Torah makes a startling move: the text asks — And tomorrow when your children ask, ‘what does it all mean?’ What will you explain, how will you construct meaning from all the things that have happened?
As I write this — covid numbers, thankfully, seem to be fading from page 1. And yet, there’s staggering loss with which our world will reckon for a long time to come. People we know struggle with long covid illness. Doctors poke and prod and scan and are stuck trying to unravel the mysteries. Page 1 now features a grinding war with atrocities that call to mind the ravages and cruelties from World War Two. Same haunting questions — What have we learned from the not so distant dark past? Federation and many other excellent organizations have stepped the breach. The refugees keep running from destruction and death. Another term with which, unfortunately, we’re familiar — compassion fatigue. The story gets old. The camera crew is ready to chase the next Big Breaking Story. But the war continues. Our world is very broken in places near and far. And the mending is slow and painstaking even as new bombs fall, new lies are spread.
So, here’s the text that speaks to the moment: in the third paragraph of Sh’ma, the mitzvah of the tzitzit — the Torah says: ‘I’m HaShem, your God who took you out of Egypt.’ Why did our sages put this recitation into our daily prayer, morning and evening? Because we’re trying to leave Mitzrayim, the place of narrow-minded darkness — every day. And every day we realize: why are we still here? As we said at the Seder – we’re still slaves! That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. So, every morning and every evening — God is urging us: Get out of Mitzrayim! Leave the narrow-minded darkness. Think hard about what we should learn, how we might change in light of the huge upheavals that continue to shape our lives. If the best we can come up with is — Forget all that! Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted? — then, my friends, we’re still in Egypt.