On Thursday night I got a frantic call from my wife.
“I’m at Winco – get over here! I need you.”
It’s not my wife’s usual response to shopping at Winco.
I drove over as fast as I could. As I entered the store, all the panic I felt emanating from my cell phone for the past several days was visible. It was right there in the faces of people pushing through the aisles. I gazed upon the empty shelves where toilet paper once resided…
As my wife and I found the end of the long, winding check-out line, I thought back to another time. It was September 2005, a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Now, Hurricane Rita was fast approaching Houston (where we were living at the time). We didn’t even have social media then, and we still went out of our minds! We rushed to fill our cars with gas. Everyone, everywhere wondered what to do.
How do 2 million people leave a city overnight? There was a 20-hour traffic jam on the way to Dallas!
Today’s international health pandemic is far more consequential than the hurricanes I experienced in 2005. Still, the feelings of tangible panic at Winco last week felt strangle familiar. And yet, amidst all of it, here we are – Chayim Kulchem HaYom – living today.
As we look toward Pesach, we consider the reading of Parshat Parah. This is a reading that reminds us of the Mitzvah to become pure before the festival, when we will bring the Korban Pesach. Parah hints to us: the spring of Pesach is approaching.
There is great fear in the world today. There is profound international tension. There is a health pandemic. And yet, we pause…
We remember that there is Tumah (impurity) and there is also Tahara (purity). There is death – and there is also life. And even after death, there is rebirth, reconnection and purification. The world goes through ebbs and flows.
And we rebound.
When we ponder the Red Heifer, we visualize a great and robust animal – a symbol of physical strength, pulsing. This great animal is reduced to ashes. And yet, while the physical world breaks down, there is the Mayim Chayim, the living waters.
Sometimes in life, we touch death and despair. Following death, the living waters purify us. They remind us that even after death, life is still possible.
Even when seeds decay in the earth, new life will sprout.
A New Heart
All of this becomes even more tangible in the words of Yechezkel. The prophet describes how the Jewish people are desecrated amongst the nations. He foresaw a time that Jewish life will be decimated, as we are flung far from our land into a state of exile and confusion. Yet, the prophet teaches us, G-d will gather us in.
What’s more, something deep will happen for us:
And I shall pour upon you purifying waters and you shall be purified. And I will place within you a new heart; and a new spirit I shall put in your midst. And I will remove the heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh. And my spirit I shall place within you.(Yechezkel 36, 25 – 26)
Here, the underlying meaning of Tumah and Tahara becomes all the clearer. Yechezkel tells us: many things will unfold as you go out amongst the nations. You will be impacted. Your hearts will be dulled.
And then I will pour new waters upon you. With these waters, your heart that had been unmovable will become impressionable once again as a heart of flesh. You will be imbued with a new spirit.
A New Spirit
In a time of international fear and confusion, we are enveloped with a spirit of fear. That spirit seems so overwhelming, debilitating and real. Our hearts feel unmovable. And yet, here we are living today, looking toward Pesach.
The small preparations we make – even in a state of uncertainty – are steps, nevertheless.
Jews have celebrated the Pesach Seder in the direst of circumstances. In exile, in secret and in distress, Jews have sung words of Hallel redemption. Today, even in confusion, we look forward toward the Seder – the set order of “Avoda” that defines our lives.
There is an ebb and flow. G-d is the source of life. And in the wake of death, there is life. HaShem will sprinkle living waters upon us and place his spirit within us.
When He does so, we will recover.