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This Gift of Mine

 Yitti Berkovic

In the olden days (pre-Corona), I used to be the Mother with the Answers. So much so that a few years ago, my kids (with my husband’s credit card) bought me one of those mugs that read, “We don’t need Google. Our mom knows everything.” 

(Except for Common Core Math. I never know the answers for Common Core Math).

If my kids ask me something I don’t know, I’m loath to admit it (so I check Google when they aren’t looking). I love random facts and trivia and proving to my kids that my brain still works, even if I always call them by someone else’s name.

But these days, since COVID entered our lexicon, I don’t know anything anymore, and neither does Google. So, when my kids pepper me with questions, I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how much longer the schools will make the kids wear masks. I don’t know if day camp will be as fun this summer as the pre-Corona summers. I don’t know if they’ll need the vaccine to go to school next year.

I don’t know anything!

So, in the absence of answers, I reassure my children while I reassure myself. “It’s okay to say we don’t know. We just have to trust in Hashem, Who loves us and only does what’s best for us.”

Most of the time they roll their eyes, but I can tell that deep down, it’s really the only answer they were looking for. Because when COVID first started, I told myself and my kids that because we have no answers. The only thing we can control is this: We can make sure we do not come out of the pandemic the same people we were when we went into in.

It’s now a year later, so a lot of the urgency we felt in those early days has faded. But everyone I speak to these days seems to be in the same boat: we’re struggling, persevering, acknowledging that it’s hard but digging deep to ensure that our new normal is a lot better than our old normal.

Well, maybe not everyone I speak to. Five minutes ago, I got off a Zoom meeting with at least fifty participants. It was a looong meeting with my son Naftali’s school administrators and parent body. Naftali, who is autistic, attends public school, so most of the people on the call were non-Jews, and many of them were non-religious.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide support to parents, and though I know the administrators meant well, I spent most of the meeting feeling like an alien dropped down on the wrong planet.

The professionals were full of ideas for us moms of children with special needs who are struggling to keep our kids (and ourselves!) busy when large crowds are still not recommended for kids who are medically compromised. They professionals suggested movies for us to watch, books for us to read, foods for us to cook, sales for us to shop, exercises for us to try…basically lists and lists of things to do to distract us and to help us pass the time.

It stood in such stark relief to everything I’ve been hearing on the Chazak hotline and TorahAnytime. It’s never been about passing the time – it’s been about maximizing every minute – and the contrast made me feel so, so lucky.

I can’t imagine how it would feel to experience the Coronavirus as just a freakish coincidence instead of Hashem’s handiwork.

I can’t imagine how it would feel to experience the pandemic as something to just get through instead of something to grow from.

How much harder would COVID life be without a sense of community and communal purpose, without volunteers who arrange shopping for people who cannot go out, without Hatzalah rushing in to help the people who put them most at harm, without Shomrim organizing oxygen cannisters for those hoping to stay out of the hospital, without Tomchei Shabbos ensuring no one goes hungry, without Bikur Cholim, without Chaverim, without Amudim, without a sense that we belong to something bigger than ourselves?

That’s why, when I hung up on the Zoom meeting and listened instead to my six-year-old doing his pre-Shavuos homework, I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed at his joyous rendition of “Hashem gave us a present.” 

I couldn’t help but shake my head when he sang that familiar refrain, “He asked the other nations, ‘Do you want this gift of mine?’”

When the other nations said, “no thank you,” did they know they were depriving themselves of the very thing that holds us up through our most difficult times? That they were saying “no thank you” to our sense of connection – to Hashem and to each other – and to our belief that we were put on this earth to do so much more than just pass the time?

It’s no surprise to me that the other “theme song” of the pandemic has been Joey Newcomb’s jubilant “Thank you, Hashem!” I’d bet I’m not the only who sobbed every time that song was played while a patient was escorted home from the hospital.

To the outside world, it might seem discordant. Why are we saying “thank you” when so many people are suffering, when so many people are plagued with questions and fears and loneliness?

To us, it makes perfect sense: What we’re really saying is, thank You, Hashem, for choosing us.

Thank You for the Torah, the gift You gave us so many years ago, a gift that demands that we live lives of meaning, of purpose, of growth, of pushing through even when we have questions – or especially when we have questions –  because we know it is You Who holds the answers.

Millenia ago, on Shavuos, we said na’aseh v’nishma at the foothills of Har Sinai. 

Do first, then we’ll understand.

We are saying it still – especially this year – when there is so much we don’t understand.

We may not have the answers yet (sorry kids – I’ll surrender my title and my mug), but in the meantime, we continue, naaseh v’nishma. Today, we do our best. In the right time, we will understand. 

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!


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