I used to think that the morning blessings (bless you for meeting all my needs, for making me free, for making me of the tribe of Israel) should have included another — Thank you for putting me at the top of the food chain. In Joseph’s time, Samson’s, and Daniel’s, lions were a threat, but the only predators roaming Bethesda are a few untamed SUVs and black BMWs.
And then came the pandemic, telling us how little we control our world. We are more similar to the ancients than we thought, at the mercy of unseen forces.
And our initial response was hardly better informed than the one our biblical ancestors might have had. We don’t have a scientific understanding of what’s happening so we revert to natural tendencies that aren’t always helpful. Thus the crisis has exposed weaknesses in our society: Our reluctance to undergo sacrifice for shared goals or benefits that don’t materialize immediately, and our default attitude of denial and xenophobia.
None of these tendencies bodes well for the short-term future, nor for the international effort we’ll need to save the climate.
So in this season of introspection, what wisdom can we glean from considering our situation?
That the ancients had an advantage over us; they knew they weren’t in control. Until early this year, we deluded ourselves into thinking the opposite.
That while we don’t have control, we do have agency. That is, our efforts will determine, or at least influence, who (and how many) shall live and who shall die.
That we need to use our God-given abilities to organize, to help, to cooperate, and to innovate.
That the two strains of our ethical tradition —personal behavior and community virtue— both count.
Things to think about as we pine for the good old days of the auditorium at Wootton High School, or wondering where we’d park to get to Adat Shalom.
Next year in Jerusalem. Or, at least, Persimmon Tree Lane.