The Changing Landscape

by Arliene Botnick, December 31, 2020

The landscape of our lives keeps changing, and no where is it more apparent than in our Torah. From the very beginning, Beresheet, we see humanity grow, learn, suffer, and be rewarded, as the world that God has given us changes.

From the perfection of Eden to the flood of Noah’s time, to our patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ journeys to and from and to again the promised land, we, as humans, have to adapt, to understand, and to decide on our next journey.

This week, anticipating perhaps the slavery in Egypt, in parashat Vayechi, Joseph asks that his brothers (once estranged from him) bring his bones back into the landscape, the land that we were promised – “Bring my bones up from this place.” And after those 430 years, his dying wish is fulfilled in B’Shalach, Ex 13:19, “And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had extracted an oath from the children of Israel.”

So once again, the landscape of our people changed. They will return to the land that they had left when Jacob and his sons left Canaan and rejoined their castoff brother Joseph (because of the famine).

So many ups and downs, so many challenges and losses. But once again, we survived. And perhaps, one of the pervading and most powerful lessons of our Torah is the ability to survive. Adam and Eve were able to live outside the walls of Eden. Noah and his family survived the flood. Abraham survived, leaving all that he knew when he was told to “Lech Lecha,” to go to an unknown land, believe in a God that could not be seen, be challenged by living in cultures that saw him as a stranger.

As strangers, we continued to survive – not easily, not without pain and loss – in our servitude in Egypt. We learned lessons about survival, we made a lot of mistakes, we were persecuted, and often times triumphant, but the constant was and still is we survived.

So that brings us to this secular year of 2021. And once again, the landscape has been modified. When we entered 2020, just a mere year ago, we could not have imagined how 2020 would play out. The last major pandemic (the Spanish flu of 1918) was, for most of us, a small footnote in history. We could not have imagined a life of lockdowns, masks, and social distancing, where each morning we would hear and read news reports of how many new COVID cases there were, or how many of our fellow human beings were on ventilators in the ICU, where so many of the most vulnerable were dying.

Now, as we enter 2021, the journey has taken a somewhat different path. Some of us have managed (with great difficulty but with the help and sacrifice of so many front-line workers) to live under the COVID-19 restrictions, knowing that this was the only way to help contain this virus. We hoped and prayed for a vaccine, and our scientific community did not disappoint us. There is a vaccine – actually at least two vaccines – that are going to be saving lives. It will take time – not 430 years – but time before we are somewhat free of COVID-19. And when that time comes, when the number of cases drops, the number of deaths is minimal, we will start the next leg of our journey into the post-COVID landscape.

And, as with every journey to an unknown place – remember “Lech Lecha – Go forth” – we will, with faith, and hope, and strength carry on. It won’t be easy; I think we all understand that getting “back to normal” may never fully happen, but what will happen is a new normal. The hope for this new normal is that we have learned from the past, that we know we have to keep one another safe, that the journey is never without its challenges, but that we can move on, carry on, go on.

So, my prayer for 2021, for all of us, is that we know we will survive, we know that we can make this a safer, healthier world for all, that even in our lowest moments, we must remember that the commandment from God who gave us life, is to live, and that, as each one of us, is our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, we need to care for and care about all life.

Welcome to 2021 – a healthier, safer New Year to all.

Filed under: Educator's Message

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