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Hope: The Silver Lining in a Very Dark Cloud

Hope: The Silver Lining in a Very Dark Cloud

Man in a kippah with his back to the camera and his hand on the Western Wall

The staggering number of deaths around the country and the world, and the horrible suffering endured by so many has us reeling.

The world will never be the same.

We cannot and should not minimize the human and economic cost of the current pandemic. Loved ones, friends and untold number of others have died and will die. Staggering numbers of people have lost their jobs and means of sustaining themselves and their families. Too many people have died and will die without loved ones nearby to say goodbye or to attend their funerals.

The description of horror and upheaval are endless.

And yet, instead of trying to get back to the old normal, maybe we can embrace the sliver lining in the very dark cloud passing over us and create a new and better normal for ourselves future generations.

What could such a silver lining be?

In the initial weeks of the shutdown, the earth made a remarkable ecological recovery. Water became cleaner, air became purer, and the tide flowing toward inevitable environmental destruction slowed, at least a bit.

What a vital warning this tragic time has reiterated. It is the same warning our Sages issued to us in the name of the Eternal One (Kohelet Rabbah, chapter 7) at the time of creation:

“You are in charge of and responsible for this earth. But it is the only one you will get. So preserve and enhance it. Do not pollute or destroy it.”

Can we somehow embrace that valuable lesson before rushing headlong back to doing things exactly as we did before?

And speaking of rushing, is there nothing we can learn from the forced “slowing down” that has become the current reality of our lives? I, for one, do not wish to return to a normal that fills every waking moment of every single day with responsibilities and obligations that make every pause and every deep breath we allow ourselves a guilty pleasure or a costly luxury.

Can we not temper our rush to return to normal – and save many lives in the process – by maintaining social distance and wearing masks, even in summer’s heat?

As Queen Elizabeth so eloquently reminded us in her address to Great Britain and the world a few months ago, might we embrace the beauty of aloneness and the time for self-reflection and meditation this time allows, even after we can return to our previous routines?

Also, might we not – while forced to accept physical distance – give thanks for the virtual capabilities this crisis has enabled us to embrace?

Might the absolute necessity for physical distance inspire us to greater “social closeness” through emails texts, video chats, phone calls, and letters?

Now, in the heat of the summer, Passover seems so long ago. Nothing replaces being together, but still I can be grateful that, through Zoom, people from as far away as Hawaii and Germany enjoyed our holiday celebration.

Let’s be clear, my search – or, as some might call, it my overreach – for “silver linings” in no way minimizes the toll in suffering, pain, loss, and inconvenience the pandemic is exacting from our lives; I fervently pray it will end soon.

Still, I believe that the secret to Jewish survival despite all the hardships and tragedy history has imposed on us is our ability to cling to the hope that things will get better.

The national anthem of Israel, unlike those of many nations, is not a militaristic march, but a soulful melody titled Hatikvah” (The Hope).

And so in the presence of the dark cloud hovering over us, I cling to the hope that has brought our people through so many trials and allows us to thrive today. When the cloud passes over, and it will, may the lessons it teaches help us create a calmer, gentler world around us and within ourselves as well.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. A prolific writer, he is the author of several books, the most recent of which is …And Often the First Jew. Rabbi Fuchs earned a D. Min in Biblical Interpretation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, which, in 2017, named him its “Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.”

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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