Between Two Gates

As I’m sure is true for many of you who are not working at this moment, whether by choice or as a result of the pandemic, I have been searching for things to do while staying in place at home.

So far this week, in addition to teaching two online classes, I’ve finally gotten rid of a box of miscellaneous papers and files that had been sitting under my desk at home since I moved out of my synagogue office almost two years ago. I found good places for much of what was there and recycled quite a bit.

In addition, I have cleaned out a few drawers at home which needed to be organized, worked on my 2nd jigsaw puzzle this month, tried to keep up with my exercising, listened to some online lectures, walked our dog about 300 times and finished reading a book which I began a month or so ago. (The book is called The Body, a Guide for Occupants by one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson. I heartily recommend it.)

But, there also have been a lot of moments of boredom.

Believe me, I’m not complaining. I am so grateful that, as of this moment, we are all feeling good. I am so deeply concerned for those I know and the thousands I don’t know who are suffering from coronavirus and I pray for healing for them and for our own continued health. I pray for the health and strength of those who don’t have the luxury of staying in their homes: those on the front lines in the hospitals and as first responders and those who are risking their health so that we can sneak in and out of the grocery stores to buy what we absolutely need. They are today’s heroes and we owe so much to them. I also am so fearful for those who have no safe homes to hide in and are in such danger.

I know I have lived a fortunate life and I have never felt such anxiety for myself, my family and for our nation and our world.

One thought that has been very much on my mind is the upcoming holiday of Pesach. We will do all that we can to prepare for and celebrate the holiday knowing that it won’t be the same as we won’t have guests at our Seder and, I assume, there will be some other aspects of the holiday which will be significantly different this year.

But, we will celebrate the holiday and, as I stressed in a d’var Torah I gave last Shabbat during our congregation’s online service, even though we are all doing things differently than we usually do, we are doing them with one hope in mind: that we can continue to hold on to the things which are important to us through this crisis. We do this so that when the time comes, God willing, and we move on from this horrible place, our actions during these weeks will help guide us to continuing those commitments in a healthier future.

Pesach has always been one of my two favorite holidays of the year. (The other, by the way, is Yom Kippur). I have to confess that I get a bit tired of hearing the Megillah and a bit cold sitting in the Sukkah. But, I never get tired of the Pesach Seder and had already had several ideas for good discussion topics for this year’s Seder. I intend to use them when, God willing, our immediate family gathers around the table two weeks from last night. It won’t feel the same. But, it will still be Pesach.

But, as much as I look forward to Pesach and have been thinking about the holiday over the past couple of weeks, I woke up this morning and did my usual davening without remembering that today is Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the month of Nisan. I didn’t remember it until I saw a post on Facebook and realized I had missed chanting Hallel, the psalms of praise said on Rosh Hodesh.

It wasn’t the first time that I have forgotten Rosh Hodesh in my daily prayers but it was the first time I have forgotten Rosh Hodesh Nisan which, coming as it does exactly two weeks before the first Seder is always circled on my calendar.

When I realized I had forgotten the significance of this day, I realized once again that even though we do all that we can to make these days as “normal” as we can, they will never be normal. This isn’t how we are meant to live: separating ourselves from friends and extended family, shutting ourselves up in our homes and going through extraordinary steps to try to avoid becoming ill. These thoughts have dominated everything else in our minds and will continue to do until we feel we are safe.

When I thought of today being Rosh Hodesh, my mind went back to last Shabbat morning. During our service, the special reading from the Torah which I look forward to each year was read from a hummash. The reading is from Exodus Chapter 12 and details the instruction for the night of the Exodus. I always look forward to the excitement of hearing of the urgency of the moment of freedom.

But, then I realized for the first time that I had missed my one of my favorite Haftarah readings of the year, the reading from the Prophets which is part of each Shabbat morning service. The special reading for the Shabbat before the beginning of the month of Nisan, Shabbat Hahodesh, comes from the book of Ezekiel and concerns the prophet’s vision of what the Passover ritual would be like in the rebuilt Temple of the future.

The reading is not the most dramatic but it contains a line which literally brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear it. In Ezekiel 46:9, we read: “When the people come before the Lord, whoever enters by the north gate to bow low shall leave by the south gate: and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate. They shall not go back through the gate by which they came in but shall go out by the opposite one”.

I love that line. As we approach Pesach each year, it reminds me that we all must constantly move forward in our lives, look to the future instead of trying to relive the past. Each year, on Pesach and on every day of our lives, we should be remembering and learning from the past but we need to have our eyes set on the future and remind ourselves that there is no turning back from the future, no matter how uncertain it might seem at any one time.

So, as I sit here on Rosh Hodesh Nisan and think of something that I can write to make sense out of where we are, it comes down to this. None of us expected to be walking through this gate that we have walked through. There is a gate at the other end: the one that will open when (and please, please, not before) it is safe to come out of social distancing and back to a somewhat normal life. That gate seems so far away at times. Yet, we will carefully and wisely walk towards it, hopeful that the day will come soon when we will walk through it in health and ready to celebrate more holiday and more “everydays” in the future.

We can’t turn the clock back. We are experiencing things now we never thought we would. But, with God’s help and, I will say, more importantly with the wisdom and courage of those who are helping us all, we will walk through that other gate and back to a full life.

I wish you all health and peace.

2 thoughts on “Between Two Gates

  1. Jeanne McDonough

    Dear Rob,

    David forwarded me your story “between the two gates”. The article that you wrote was so uplifting and beautiful.
    Wishing you and your family good health and blessings.

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