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“Mah Tovu…How Good Is It? --- Tov Me’od!”          

10/20/2020 02:34:51 PM

Oct20

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Noach, we read the following: “These are the generations of Noach --- Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; with G’d did Noach walk.” (Bereishit 6:9) A midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 30:8) describes the following five people found in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible): Noach, Yoseif, Moshe, Iyov, and Mordechai, all who saw “a new world” come about in their times.  Each saw what could have been permanent terrible tragedies that were transformed into uplifting experiences that created a better world.  In each of these instances, the Hebrew word “hayah” (commonly translated to mean “was”) is used in describing what each of these men experienced.  Why the use of the word “hayah?”  Rabbi Yissocher Frand in his book The Power of a Vort (“vort” is translated to mean “word”) suggests that the key as to how a person enters and engages with a “new world” is based on how s/he views the word “hayah.”  Either one can wallow in it never moving forward or one can “let the past fade into twilight.”  He uses Noach and the “Mabul” (“the Flood”) as an example.  Although Noach and his family were spared the fate of the rest of their generation, they could have said “woe is me” and stopped dead in their tracks.  Instead, they emerged from the “teivah” (“the ark”) and proceed in a totally different world, a world that was not the world that they had known and lived in prior to the Mabul.  “Hayah” --- the past is gone forever.  This brings to mind what is happening in our world at this time.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not think that many would disagree with me that far too many of us took things for granted.  We were able to live and enjoy life as Jews without appreciating what we had.  And now, gone are things like celebrating with a chatan and kallah at the chuppah, celebrating a boy becoming a Bar Mitzvah or a girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah, going to shul three times each day to pray with the minyan, getting together with chaverim in the beit midrash to learn Torah.  They are prohibited in order to attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.  If there is any overriding message that comes out of this pandemic, it is this: we need to better appreciate what we have been given by Hashem in our everyday lives and not just at those special times in which we all revel.  At this time, the old adage “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is an incontrovertible truth.  And this is where the word “hayah” plays a pivotal role in our lives.

Before it is too late (and none of us knows when that time is), we must realize how good we had it before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Instead of concentrating only on how bad we have it right now, how bad the economy is, how bad the health situation is, how bad the world is, we need to do what all five of the men from the midrash did: they fought back with every ounce of their strength in order to bring about a better world.    We need to do the same.  How?  By appreciating our families, by appreciating our friends, by appreciating what we can accomplish from our homes, by appreciating our ability to still explore our world and learn new things even while doing so in a brand-new way, by appreciating our health and the food we eat and the basic necessities we have.

In an article published in “Yated Ne’eman,” of March 27, 2020, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz puts what I consider to be the best perspective on this COVID-19 pandemic by imagining what his late father-in-law, a survivor of the Shoah (“the Holocaust”) might have said about our world today. 

You are restricted where to go and how many people can congregate, but you could stay home and be in your own bed?  You mean, you don’t have to stay in a bunker?  No ghetto?  No sleeping with animals in a barn?  You could go to sleep at night and expect to find yourself and your family in the same place in the morning?  You have enough food in your home to survive for a few weeks?  No rationing of a few grains of barley per person per day?  You have fresh water to drink and don’t need to limit it?  You don’t have to boil it first?  You can go to the bathroom and you don’t need to use a pail in a corner with other people around?  You can go outside to get food and there’ll be food available?  You can go outside to get food and you won’t be shot dead if discovered?  You can take a shower?  With soap?  With warm water too?  You have a tallis and tefillin?  You can pray as long and as loud as you want and not be afraid of being discovered?  You could gather on your own porches and sing “Kabbalas Shabbos” (the service welcoming the Sabbath) and let it fill the whole street?  You could have a Shabbos se’udah (“Sabbath meal”) with real chicken soup, not just a little salt in water and leave the rest to the imagination?  Real fish?  Fresh challah, soft and chewy, not hard and moldy?  White, and not coarse black?  You can get more than one slice of bread a day?  You don’t have to hide it from other people?  You could think about making plans for the next month or even the next year and have a reasonable chance of keeping those plans?  Heat?  You can feel your fingers and toes when you wake up?  You have air conditioning?  You don’t feel suffocated by the heat and stench?  You have shoes without holes?  More than one pair?  Really?  You have sefarim (“holy books to learn from?  Any sefer you want?  You have access to shi’urim (“lessons”) by phone or by computer?  You have a way to keep in touch with the outside world and at least know there is an outside world?  You could actually know what is happening out there?  You could be in touch with family and see how they’re doing?  You never think that maybe you’re the last one alive? There is nothing to complain about.  All is okay.

While all might not, in fact, be “okay,” as long as you are alive, as long as you can live in this world and love those who are important to you, as long as you can still say “Modeh/Modah Ani” each morning, it is just “okay.”  It is indeed tov me’od --- it is indeed very good!

Sun, March 7 2021 23 Adar 5781