Living with the pandemic is an ongoing challenge. Changes in our lives have affected relationships and altered how and where we do our work. It has not been easy. The story of Abraham’s concubine Hagar gives me perspective during these days of trial and challenge.
One of the episodes in the Torah selection for Rosh Hashanah is Abraham’s banishment of Hagar together with their son, Ishmael. They are dispatched to the desert with only bread and water. Wandering in the vast wasteland, their water soon gives out. Overcome by thirst and dehydration, a weeping Hagar, awash in self-pity, collapses opposite an immobilized Ishmael. It is then that an angel of God calls her to open her eyes to behold the well of water within her sight. She and Ishmael drink, fill the bottle of water and continue on their journey. They successfully exit from the desert to build new lives.
Hagar survived by transcending her self-pity. Surviving the pandemic likewise requires overcoming the tendency to be immobilized by the challenges of the moment. The human capacity to adapt is an amazing blessing, but self-pity neutralizes the capacity to adapt to trying circumstances and difficult situations.
Facemasks are uncomfortable and social distancing robs us of the experience of intimacy. We have, however, discovered the power of Zoom and other technologies to enable us to convert our homes to office workspace, classrooms, and most significantly, into virtual venues for family gatherings, for both simcha and sadness. By successfully overcoming the Hagar response we have transcended much of the pain and frustration caused by the pandemic.
Our synagogues and temples have proven to be innovative in adapting to various limitations imposed by the pandemic. High holiday services will be different this year, but they will nonetheless be inspiring and meaningful. May the prayers that our lives speedily return to normal be fulfilled, and may the strength and resolve demonstrated during this crisis be an ongoing source of inspiration for all of us.
Arnold Goodman, a senior rabbinic scholar living in Jerusalem, was senior rabbi of Ahavath Achim Synagogue from 1982 to 2002.