by Rabbi Steven Schwarzman
(AJNews) – In the midst of the pandemic, it’s not hard to write off 5780 as an exceptionally bad year. Never mind what we were all able to accomplish during the year (including on Zoom), never mind the good things that we did, never mind the sins that we were able to avoid (especially the habitual ones). For too many families around the globe, including mine, loved ones were taken by the virus. Economic disruption was everywhere. And perhaps worst of all, we were unable to be with our loved ones on happy and sad occasions. We were unable to shake hands, let alone hug. Seniors and young singles were alone, and families with children were forced to adjust to suddenly being with each other all the time.
Near the end of the Talmud’s tractate Megillah, Reish Lakish says that the curses (and the blessings) in Leviticus are read so that an aliyah neither begins nor ends with a curse. We add a verse at the beginning and at the end to avoid this. With regard to the similar reading in Deuteronomy, which is less harsh, it’s not necessary to add verses. Okay, fair enough. But Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar goes on to say that Ezra the Scribe arranged the Torah reading schedule to make sure that the curses in Deuteronomy are read before Rosh Hashanah, so that, as either Abaye or Reish Lakish explain in different oral traditions, the old year and itscurses would be over before the new year begins.
As difficult a year as this has been, we can take comfort in knowing that it is not unique. Bad years occur, and they occurred even in our ancient past. And the Talmud is here to remind us that good years will return. We will get through this, both here in Edmonton and around the world. It seems likely that, sometime in 5781, one or several vaccines will be ready. And we will emerge from the pandemic, not without real scars, but also perhaps with a renewed understanding of what’s truly important in our lives.
And this is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. This year, we may be able to go deeper in examining what we do out of habit that doesn’t add to our lives. We may see more clearly what we need to do differently now that we have been through such a difficult time. We may find it a little easier to give up our grudges and reconcile with friends and family members. The pandemic is a curse, not a blessing. But we can derive blessings from what we have learned and make 5781 a better year.
More than ever, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, so that we can make this year one of blessings.
Rabbi Steven Schwarzman is the spiritual leader of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton.