Every year, when the month of Elul begins and the shadows of fall become visible, we think of the High Holy Days. Last year at this time, as the Hebrew calendar year of 5781 was approaching, we wished our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances a “Shana Tova Umetukah,” a Happy and Sweet New Year.
Little did we know that the year before, at the time of Tu B’Shvat, the monstrous pandemic of COVID-19 would strike the United States and the world with such ferocity. This pandemic has resulted in millions of positive cases and hundreds of thousands of Americans dead. Among the dead were prominent American and Israeli Rabbinic leaders. Among them are the Novaminksker Rebbe; Rabbi Levy of the OK Kashruth Organization; and Rabbi Bakshi Daron, former chief Rabbi of Sephardic of Israel. All succumbed to the COVID-19 killer.
Let us not forget the deaths this year of both prominent people and many whose lives are just as prominent without being publicized.
The Machzor lists the positives and negatives that can unfold in a new year. The Unasanah Tokef prayer starkly depicts our vulnerabilities: “Kamah Yaavrun, V’kamah yebarayun,”: “How many will pass away and how many will be born.”
Then “Mee Barash Umee Bamagebah,”: “How many by storm, and how many by plague.” And then, “Mee Yeeshafale, umee yarun,”: “Who will be degraded and who will be exalted.” Is there an answer to the unknown?
The only answer we are given in prayer includes three things: “Utishuvah, Utifilah, Utzedekah.” “True repentance, profound prayer, and whole hearted charity” will mitigate the degree that could hurt us, or as my Rabbinic colleague, Chaplain/Rabbi Lehrer says: “Charity, Prayer, Repentance”...CPR.
Although 5780-81 were both a Shanna Raah (a bad year) we have hope in G-d (Ochilah La’el) that the power entrusted to humanity to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) will bring to fruition the end of the pandemic. Then we can truly say, this year will be a Shanah Tova Umetukah, a happy, “sweet and good new year for us and all humanity.”
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