Humans are creatures of habit and instinct, both good and bad. There is profound freedom in knowing what to expect, having dependable food and shelter, being able to plan and rely on order. It is hardly original to say that 2020 offered few of those cherished comforts. It was of a year of unknown territory, unthinkable losses and unforgiving realities.
The question upon us in 2021 and beyond is whether we can make our way out of this wilderness with a fresh understanding of ourselves. Can we rethink what matters and what we need and do not need? Can we adapt and improve our norms and behavior?
In Parashat Beshelach, we read of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines although it was nearer. God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.” Moses instructs the people to “stand firm” and to realize a different and better future. Following their escape, the Israelites are soon troubled and unsure, calling out for food and water. They are instructed to gather just what they need for their household and not excess. Some obey while others collect more than they require, leaving it to waste only to be covered with maggots by morning. The fear and lack of choice while in bondage had been replaced with free will and communal accountability.
Over the coming year, let us hope that we emerge from the claws of the pandemic with lessons learned. We have seen that many do not have access to sustenance, let alone manna, while others have created personal stockpiles. Can we reevaluate what we are taking with us as we eventually return to a familiar order? If we leave this wilderness with our families, health, homes and jobs, let us be grateful and remember that others will not. While 2020 constricted our lives logistically, financially and socially at a minimum, it expanded our choices morally and collectively. It is time to recognize that caring for ourselves does not preclude a commitment to mutual responsibility and the larger good.
Stephanie Fine Maroun, Schechter alumni parent, Assistant Director of Admission