Because so many of us are worried and distressed now, we asked this rabbi, what beshert could there be in the time of coronavirus?
For years, I’ve resisted and wrestled with the teaching, “A person must bless God for the bad just as one blesses God for the good” (Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 60b). Over the past month, I’ve returned to this teaching in the context of our global pandemic. Bless God for the bad? In a light dimmed by the darkness of COVID-19, I see and submit to it in a way that I could not have before.
The Rabbis do not teach us to praise or to thank God for the bad. Praise and thanks for suffering is a game for masochists and fools. We are only taught to bless the Eternal, to humbly bend our knees and to present this gift of our understanding to the Holy One, Blessed Be: COVID-19 reminds us that we exist in a vast narrative, a narrative that lies beyond our individual comprehension, one that includes our inextricable interconnectedness to each other, and one that calls for us to be sacred partners with God in order to bring greater holiness and wholeness to our broken world. We may be in isolation, but there is no sitting this one out.
This is the first time in our lives that we have experienced a collective suffering of the human race. There is a hierarchy to suffering and that, in the face of dying, death, and economic devastation that is falling disproportionately on people of color and those without economic advantages, I believe that to be a Jew is to look past the inconveniences of a lack of our wants to see and prioritize the real needs of others. I accept that differentiating between our wants and the needs of others in order to recalibrate our world invites a subjectivity so powerful that it defies the evolution of our species’ survival instinct.
And yet, evolution is not predetermined. To bless God for the bad is to remember our interconnectedness, that we are commanded to be partners in holiness, and to ask ourselves and each other not “When will we go back to our lives?” but rather “What kind of lives do we want to go back to?”
Rabbi David Spinrad serves as the senior rabbi of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia. He and his beshert, Gal Adam Spinrad, have two children and live in Alexandria. They met at the Burning Man Festival in 1999 and this summer will celebrate 18 years of marriage. Rabbi Spinrad has recently learned to play chess and hopes to take up competitive rowing.