Don’t look backward--There is nothing left for you there!
So often I have heard throughout the Covid-19 plague, “I can’t wait for life to go back to normal.” It makes me chuckle because I recall with great clarity how many of those same complainers were dissatisfied when life was “normal.” I can’t help but feel sorry and much worried for those whose future is obstructed by renovated nostalgia. Firstly, the alleged “normalcy” of the past is problematic in and of itself, i.e., please define normal. Secondly, we are never going back to that world of imagined happiness. There is a vicious war between good and evil--life and death--with each endeavoring to enlist mankind to its side. It is not a new war, but it is an ever intensifying one. “Which side is winning?” you ask. The one we have been feeding the most. There is the world of truth and the world of lies with no multiple shades of gray--regardless of the comfy accommodations that our excuses conjure. So, my friends, “To which side are you donating?”
“Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,” G-d warns us. “You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.”
If those are the only multiple-choice answers in G-d’s test called "Life," why did He really have to tell us what to choose? Which rational-minded person would not choose life? Who would say, “Nah,” I think I’ll pick death, but thanks for the offer”? And yet, more often than we think, we do pick death. Perhaps not in one fell swoop as would an executioner wielding a sharp sickle, but even more cruelly and self-deceptively we choose death by a thousand cuts. Simple examples are the “toxic” foods or drinks we grab for regularly, unhealthy habits and environments. If we would stop and think for a simple moment before we act, and question which side our actions are feeding, our lives would be dramatically enlightened. But most of us don’t and then one day we “wake up dead” and ask G-d or anyone who will listen: "What happened to the person I used to be and where is the one I wanted to be?"
Yesterday, I asked on Facebook, “What happens to our sins?” Well, they too kill us ever imperceptibly, one “small” sin at a time, not only in this lifetime but in the next one as well. Dear reader, I feel you rolling your eyes at me. What, you don’t believe in the world to come? Ok, so go back to watching Netflix, I’m sure you’ll find life’s answers there, in the glamorized sewers of Hollywood.
Quarantine and isolation have given us all time to reflect, like grade-schoolers in timeout, on our behaviors and on those “normal” lives we miss so much. The courageous and honest amongst us will start to remember our complaints and gripes, our disappointments and the gnawing emptiness that materialism and success could not fill. Some of us will even recall in the echo chamber of our conscience that rumbling grumbling sinful sentence: “I hate my life.”
We read about people just like us in this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, in the Book of Numbers. The Egyptians had enslaved the children of Israel with back-breaking labor and embittered their lives, so much so that “The children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to G-d....” So, G-d freed them. Do they send G-d a big “thank you” note with everyone’s signature? Not really. Contrary to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, said give me slavery. They lamented the fact that were ever taken out of Egypt. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” They wanted to go back to “normal.”
If we don’t fight the fear of change in our own lives, abandon the comfort zone and embrace new versions and visions of ourselves, we will always be crying to return to our figurative ‘Egypts.’ After all, slavery offers routine and therein we find comfort. But the questions are: “Who and what are we serving?” G-d or fear and the fake over-materialistic world that is killing us slowly? If normal as we knew it were such a noble enterprise, why would it be called “a rat race.” G-d Himself sees the G-dly in us. He tells us be holy because I am holy. Be a royal nation. But we prefer to emulate the rat and eat all the garbage and lies that this idolatrous world feeds us. Yet, we learn from Perek Shira that even the rat praises the Almighty and knows its place and says, “The entire soul praises G-d. Hallelujah!"
As for us, our entire soul praises money and other intoxicating life-sapping charms. And so, it may come as surprise to know that not all the Israelites were spared during the plague of darkness. G-d smote four-fifths of them--2,400,000 died because did not want to leave Egypt. So enmired were they in the darkness of their deeds—their normal-- that it was fitting they died in darkness never to see the light of the Torah which awaited their people. The Torah awaits us still my beloved Jews and it is time to be led by the light. Darkness is not a flashlight that any normal person would use. And yet we called our darkness “normal.” Rather, it was just a place to hide, to die, to lie, to grow fungus and to shirk our responsibilities as Jews.
Look at Covid and rising antisemitism as opportunities, as new flashlights, as G-d’s exit strategy: He opened the sea before us and gave us the Book of Life. Don’t choose death. Don’t look backward? There is nothing left for us there! “…For the Lord said to you, ‘You shall not return that way anymore.’” Let it go. Move on! “DO not be afraid,” the Almighty ensures us. “I will go before you and fight your battles.” So just believe that G-d will and more importantly, give Him a reason to do so.