How will we mark the transition from B.C. (Before COVID-19) to A.C. (After COVID-19)?
When the loss, the suffering, the sadness and the anxiety associated with the coronavirus comes to an end, we will emerge on the other side.
Perhaps it is foolish or even naive to look ahead to that moment. But I pray and believe that we will come out stronger, smarter and kinder; and I look forward to that time. It will be then that we are confronted with a profound question of human need: how will we mark the transition from B.C. (Before COVID-19) to A.C. (After COVID-19)?
In some ways our world today echoes the double Torah portion we read this week. A contagion exists that requires the sufferer to quarantine. After a time, the sufferer comes before the authorities and is assessed to be cleansed from the affliction. Then, rituals are performed that allow the sufferer to re-enter the Israelite encampment.
Through rituals, the laws and traditions of the Jewish people reveal the need to mark transition from one space to another whether that space is physical, temporal or metaphysical.
A mezuzah on the doorpost marks the transition from home to the outside. A bar or bat mitzvah ceremony marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. A funeral service marks the transition of the deceased from this world to the next and for the mourner, from life with a particular loved one to life without that loved one.
Returning to normalcy after this pandemic will require such a ritual. Of course, it will be hard to define “A.C.” until there is a cure or a vaccine. Perhaps, in a year or so, when COVID-19 is officially defeated, we will sing like Moses and Miriam did when they crossed the Red Sea.
At some point much sooner, perhaps even by May 1, the governor will lift the stay-at-home order and we will slowly begin to gather. The return to some sense of normalcy will be gradual rather than torrential, but we will feel its power; the freedom will be palpable. We will need, even in the short run, a ritual to mark the occasion.
When our ancestors re-entered society after suffering the plague of tzara-at, they ritually cleansed and purified their bodies, possessions and homes. Then they offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving. In the same way, perhaps we too will cleanse ourselves with a visit to the mikveh or the hairdresser. We will put on our High Holiday finest, gather in our synagogue sanctuaries, and in our gratitude invite our health care providers to ascend the bimah with honor.
Then all of us together as Jews will proclaim in unison, Shehechyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh ~ Thank You, God, for giving us life, sustaining us and allowing us to reach that moment in time. Please, God, may that time come soon.
Rabbi Aaron Starr is spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.