How many times over the last few months have you heard that we are living in historical times? There is absolutely no question about it. I can already envision in my mind the many books and articles that will be written about the days of COVID-19, along with the most extraordinary pictures that will accompany them.
I’m thinking about the photo of the yeshivah boy, committed to limiting his exposure to only his capsule in yeshivah, yet determined to attend the bar mitzvah of his younger brother. The boy is covered from head to toe with protective gear, perched high on someone’s shoulders, reaching out and dancing with his brother. I’m thinking of the happy couple that got married in the supermarket so that a larger number of guests would be allowed to attend their wedding. In this photo, musicians play in the background while their guests look on as the smiling couple poses in front of the colorful backdrop of red, orange, and yellow peppers. Maybe there will even be feature films produced about the global pandemic that has impacted all of mankind in countless ways and currently occupies an inordinate amount of our collective headspace. There will likely be documentaries interviewing people about their experiences and how those experiences impacted their lives. My children like to joke around about how, years from now, high school students will be studying coronavirus facts for their matriculation exams. They will memorize where the virus began. How many were sick? How many deaths? Which cities were hotspots? How did the various governments meet the challenge? What restrictions were put in place? Which restrictions proved effective? And with Hashem’s help, what was found to cure the virus? True, we are slowly getting used to our new reality, but these are all things we could never have imagined just six months ago. Yet, here we are, undoubtedly living in historical times.
Truth be told, as someone who lives in Israel, I always feel like I’m living in historical times. While Jewish history is certainly spread all over the globe, here is where it’s at. Just put on your walking shoes, grab a Tanach, and watch the words jump off the pages as you stroll through antiquity. Take a walk in Chevron where Avraham Avinu bought M’aras HaMachpeilah. Look towards Har HaBayis, which is Har HaMoriah, the location where Akeidas Yitzchak took place. Drive up north to the stunning Carmel region to where Eliyahu HaNavi dramatically proved with fire that Hashem is the only G-d. Visit Shiloh, the home of the Mishkan. Feel the auspiciousness of the place where Chanah’s fervent t’filos were answered and be inspired to offer your own. We are literally surrounded by our past at every turn. Furthermore, discoveries of ancient artifacts routinely make the headlines. Excavations yield remains from the times of the Beis HaMikdash. Just recently, a six-year-old boy found a 3,500-year-old clay tablet from the Canaanite Period. On Tish’ah B’Av, we can stand and daven at the place where the Beis HaMikdash stood and was tragically destroyed. Even the names of our streets, like Rechov Sheishet Hayamim and Chaf Tet B’November, tell our story and take us back to bygone days. When we made aliyah, I felt so honored to live on Rechov Rashi. It is impossible to escape our rich and glorious past here, even if we try.
All that I’ve mentioned enhances our ability to connect to our past in a tangible way. But my feeling that I live in historical times is due to the fact that while I appreciate the history that surrounds me, I am also able to connect to the future in a real way. I genuinely feel like a link that connects our past and our future as aspects of both periods of time appear to be on continuous display. While I look down at an archaeological exhibit at Park Yarmouth, which recently opened a short distance from my home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I am simultaneously able to look upward and see countless cranes hovering overhead in the never-ending construction that goes on in this city. There are new neighborhoods, schools, parks, and malls being built here all the time. New highways are being erected, and old ones are being refurbished and upgraded.
The startup nation projects way ahead into the future by making important discoveries in so many areas. Israel developed 3D-printed ventilators as well as the EarlySense system, which allows medical staff to monitor patients’ conditions without any physical contact, something particularly essential in treating COVID-19 patients. An Israeli firm is currently developing a 30-second coronavirus breathalyzer test. WAZE and Mobileye have proven to be gamechangers in the areas of driving safety and navigation. The PillCam is the most advanced capsule endoscopy technology, and Babysense, a non-touch, non-radiation device, is designed to prevent crib death. The sky’s the limit as Israeli innovations take us soaring to the future at high speed. The army does not forget the battles of the distant past while strategizing and preparing for a victorious future. At my son’s tekes hashbaah (ceremony upon finishing basic training), the perek in Sefer Yehoshua that prepares the Biblical army for war was read out loud. At the same time, the Army always focuses on discovering state-of-the-art technology to destroy our enemies who threaten us. They keep our past in mind while forging ahead.
Our ability to hold on to past and future didn’t develop in a vacuum. We have many halachos and minhagim to remind us of our beginning as a nation. Even though we personally didn’t live in sukkos in the midbar, on Sukkos we move into our sukkos just as our ancestors did. Our Pesach Seder is replete with symbols designed not only to help us remember Y’tzias Mitzrayim, but to make us feel as though we ourselves left Mitzrayim. Even though we didn’t witness the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, during the Three Weeks, we have many minhagim that help us focus on what we’ve lost. Starting in Elul, we will engage in deep introspection regarding this past year, and we will contemplate what improvements we will strive for in the coming year.
Much has been said about how our current situation appears to be fulfilling the predictions of the time prior to Mashiach. While we are always looking back to the past, we also look ahead to the time of Mashiach, who, we pray, will arrive in the very near future.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.