Each time I venture out amidst the pandemic that has, already, taken so many lives, I think about what changes in behavior (beyond behaviors directly related to containment of the virus) might be appropriate in response to the events of recent months. One answer came to mind as I visited, via Zoom, a thirty-minute pre-school session engaging (somewhat) the attention of my grandson and his two year old classmates. During that time, I reflected on words that the teacher sang with her students: Modeh ani (“I thank You”), a declaration traditionally recited on waking up each day.
A Talmudic sage suggests reading each week’s Torah portion twice in Hebrew and once in (Aramaic) translation. In that spirit, I look forward – when not sheltering in place – to perusing the coming week’s Torah reading each shabbat afternoon, after its opening verses are publicly read as part of the afternoon (minchah) service. Lately, between daylight savings time and spending the entire shabbat at home, I have added a look at the coming week’s haftarah, the selection from the prophets associated with the weekly Torah reading, to my late Saturday afternoon preview list.
Monday night/Tuesday, May 11-12, marks Lag B’Omer, a “minor holiday” in the Jewish calendar. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day in the count of days and weeks linking Passover and Shavuot, a period that used to begin with an “omer” (literally, sheaf), a wave offering of a measure of barley, at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud includes reference to events during the Omer period that rendered it a time of mourning, albeit the 33rd day was/is celebratory.
For students across the world, this pandemic has created a seismic shift in their current education. It is becoming increasingly possible that for many, the remainder of the school year will be conducted virtually, with no return to campus. This may mean forgoing most of the usual celebration and ritual associated with the end of the school year, and for graduating students, possibly even missing the chance to walk in a formal graduation ceremony.
Pesach, a holiday of remembering, is followed one week later by Holocaust Remembrance Day and, the next week, by Israel’s Memorial Day. The motif of memory runs deep in Jewish thought and ritual. What is it about remembering that is so compelling?
As my wife and I sat at the seder table last week, we could not but – as, I’m sure, did many others – reflect on seders past. We have, over decades, celebrated many memorable seders. Not unlike our experience this year, the first seder of our marriage was particularly distinctive, owing to global conditions of a different sort. Then, as now, the enduring question of Pesach was and remains: What is our vision of tomorrow?