10 Jewish Quotes for the Lessons We Learned in 2020

December 30, 2020Rabbi Jordana Schuster Battis

At some point, we’ll be able to say, “hindsight is 2020” regarding all we could and should have done this year. But at least 2020 itself will soon be in our hindsight! As the year goes out, here are 10 Jewish quotes, both from the Torah and beyond, to get us reflecting on what we've learned.

10. Hannah was praying in her heart: only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. (I Samuel 1:12-13)

Never before the year 2020 were so many of us on Zoom calls where we were talking but others could not hear. Alas, for all the times we didn’t unmute!

More importantly, 2020 raised up voices previously unheard by many. This year taught us anew the importance of speaking truth to power, unmuting our lips in the service of what is right.

9. When Moses descended from Mount Sinai… his face was glowing…. He instructed them… and put a veil over his face. (Exodus 34:29-33)

In 2020, we learned the importance of covering our faces when it comes to protecting others. This year taught us as Moses did: Keep the covenant with each other and with what is holy – and veil our faces when necessary.

8. The locusts have no king, yet they go forth and drive wedges everywhere. (Proverbs 30:27)

This year, we learned the extent to which the smallest of the small, a virus visible only under a powerful microscope, can spread throughout the world and create wedges that divide us from each other. Twenty-twenty taught us the power of the smallest organisms within the vast array of Creation – and of our power to connect with each other, even when we are divided.

7. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because, on it, God rested from all the work of creation. (Genesis 2:2)

In the “before times,” many of us had become so busy, filling our days with constant bustle. This year forced us to slow down. Even when it has been hard work just to be this year, we have also been forced to rest. This year reminded us: Even God needed a break. Ceasing from activity is holy in itself.

6. Open your hand to your poor and needy kinsperson in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)

In 2020 we were reminded that, while money cannot buy happiness, it is crucial for meeting basic needs. Shelter, food, medicine, and childcare require money. Deuteronomy reminds us: Any of us can end up in need; those in need are our kin. We open our hands to each other, knowing we may be the next in need.

5. Who is rich? One who finds happiness in what she has. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

At the same time, we have learned again that, for those of us who are lucky enough to have our basic needs met, money alone cannot create meaning. This year reminded us: What we already have is incredible. When we recognize the good in our lives, we experience riches indeed.

4. For I the Eternal… visit the iniquities of the parents upon the third and fourth generations. (Exodus 20:5)

This year reminded us that trauma can embed itself in individuals, and in a society, for generations, encoded into our bodies and our laws. The repair work needed involves lifting up the voices and actions of those who have been pushed aside because of skin color, ancestry, religion, gender, and sexuality – so that our crimes and the crimes of our ancestors do not continue at play for generations more.

3. If you will it, it is no dream. (Theodor Herzl)

When it comes to healing the world, we need to know what we are working toward. This year reminded us that we need a vision of the world as we dream it should be so that we can join in willing our way toward that dream.

2. Destroying one soul…destroys an entire world. (BT Sanhedrin 37a)

With the numbers of COVID-related deaths each day, it is easy to forget that each number represents the entire world of the person who died, for those who loved, cared, and were supported by them. Every one of us who knows someone who has died knows the impact that person had on our lives. This year reminded us: Every soul is a holy soul. Every life is an entire world.

And the number one Jewish quote for what we learned in 2020…

1. Our fate is bound up in each other (BT Shevuot 39a)

In 2020, we learned the extent to which the fate of every single one of us is in each other’s hands. We are woven together inextricably. We need each other. We depend on each other. We must be here for each other.

Wishing you a healthy end of 2020 for whatever journeys are to come. May silver linings grace your every storm cloud. As Tevya the Dairyman once said, “Maybe that is why we always wear our hats.”

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