Lessons from Lockdown

October 11, 2020

8 min read


My top three transformative takeaways.

Corona has certainly thrown us for a loop. Prior to the pandemic, we walked around with this false sense of security and control and then within a matter of days, a microscopic virus achieved something cosmic. It's hard to imagine anything that could trigger such dramatic changes in such a short amount of time.

There are so many different lessons from the lockdown and I believe there is a shared experience between them. Together they have the potential to transform us into the people we are truly meant to become.

1. From Me to We

In the beginning of the pandemic, there was this overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty. Remember the panic that ensued over food, Lysol wipes and toilet paper? It was nuts!

I had a hard time holding back judging others as I looked at their grocery cart filled with 10 dozen eggs, 10 packages of chicken, and 10 bags of milk. I tried so hard to judge favorably, thinking maybe they have a very large family, maybe they have elderly parents living with them, maybe they are delivering this food to other people…I tried, I really did.

But looking at empty grocery shelves for weeks, I felt this sense that everyone was just thinking about themselves. This attitude of “It’s all about ME and as long as I have what I need, I’ll be fine.” It was a sad state of affairs and so not Jewish.

Although the dignity of the individual is a priority in Judaism, we haven’t survived this long as a people without having a collective responsibility for each other. We see this most strongly in our prayers. On the High Holidays we come together to pray communally and ask for forgiveness together. The holiday of Sukkot we invite guests to celebrate the joy of Judaism and we bind the four species together as a sign of our unity.

Our Sages tell us, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” all of Israel is responsible for one another. Judaism is not just a code of individual responsibility; we are responsible for each other as well.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks beautifully describes this idea of collective responsibility as one that connects us as citizens of the world. To be a citizen of a state, or resident in a neighbourhood, inevitably means to be involved in a collective fate of some kind. He writes, “What happens to me is only partially determined by what I do. It is also determined by what others do. With or against our will, we are affected by those around us”. Our role in the spread and containment of this virus speaks so deeply to our connection and responsibility to one another.

I’ve witnessed that things have changed. At some point -- did it happen when the toilet paper was restocked? -- there was a shift; we saw the whole world move from an attitude of ME to WE.

We first saw it as people began to recognize and acknowledge the incredible dedication and sacrifice of our frontline workers. There was this outpouring of gratitude worldwide, it washed over the world like a blanket of love. It signified to me that the attitude of “it’s all about me” had been replaced with “we are all in this together!”

We saw such incredible kindness, generosity and love during this time. Just after Passover a remarkable true story of one such incredible kindness surfaced. One family reached out to a neighbour who was going to be completely alone and invited her to join their family for the Seder. They accomplished this by each family home pushing their dining room tables close to the window so they would be as “together” as possible. After the holiday the woman’s son called to see how her Seder was. She told him, “It was actually beautiful! All the tunes that the neighbors sing are the exact same tunes that we sing at our Seders, isn’t that something!?”

What makes this story of incredible kindness even more extraordinary is the backstory. The week before the Seder, once the neighbour invited the woman to join their Seder through the windows, they called her son and said, “Please teach us the tunes of the songs you sing at your table so we can make your mom feel as included as possible.” That week the family practiced the tunes to all the songs.

Covid brought out the best in us and demonstrated the unity in seeing each other as one big family, Am Echad B’lev Echad, one nation with one heart.

2. Gratitude

This year will be remembered as the year that we were forced to slow down from the rapid pace of our daily lives and take stock of all our blessings. As we sat in our homes, locked away from the chaos outside, we started to appreciate more deeply what we do have – basic gifts like health, a home and a family.

And with this appreciation, we learned to humble ourselves, to give up control, to take each day as it comes, and to live a little more in the present. This has been a time to focus us on gratitude to God for all that he is doing for us at every moment.

There was the story of an elderly man from New York who contracted Covid-19 and had to be put on a ventilator. Thank God he survived and when he was well enough to leave the hospital he was handed the bill, including payment for the oxygen for the two weeks he was on the ventilator. The man looked at the bill and began to cry. The administrator told him, “I know it’s a lot of money – don’t worry you don’t have to pay it all at once.”

The man looked up and said, “I’m not crying about the bill. I’m crying because I’m thinking how much I owe God for all the oxygen He has been giving me for the past 70 years for free!”

The pandemic has helped us realize that God is answering prayers every moment for things we didn’t even pray for. Did we ask God to wake up this morning with the ability to see, to hear, to breathe or to walk? Most of us take these things for granted. When was the last time we really asked God for them? Yet He blesses us each day. How much more we would appreciate these blessings if they were, God forbid, taken away from us.

Through Covid we have realized that the little things are really the BIG THINGS! Let’s not let this new year go by without taking this life-changing lesson with us.

3. God doesn’t have Plan B

God is all powerful, all knowing and all good. When Covid hit, many people asked why is this coronavirus happening? Doesn’t God realize that I was supposed to send my kids to camp this summer, or marry off my daughter with 400 of her closest friends, or that I’m supposed to be taking care of my elderly parents right now?

Each of us has our own we should have been. And we think that everything that we’ve had to re-arrange is all Plan B. But God runs the world, so everything that happens to us – the good, the challenges, all of it… even corona – is PLAN A! God doesn’t have a Plan B. Where we are is where we are meant to be! Which means we are meant to be limited to seeing 10 people in a socially distanced manner, wearing masks, and for our Israeli brothers and sisters, in lockdown again.

Recognizing that we can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to what happens to us, has been life-changing for me.

One day all the drive-by bat mitzvahs and graduations, the zoom birthday parties, funeral and shiva calls, and the outdoor High Holiday services will all be a distant memory. And despite all that’s changed in this year, what hasn’t changed are the moments in Jewish life that have been so meaningful and unforgettable.

Lockdown has brought with it many lessons. It was the year that we understood more deeply than before just how essential meaningful relationships are and the more we focus on the WE, instead of only ME, the better we all do. It was a year that we truly counted our blessings and focused on all we did have instead of what was lost. And we learned that God has no Plan B, and that how we respond to what happens to us is where our greatest power lies.

Lastly, there's a lot of talk these days about "our bubbles." In today's vernacular, it's meant to keep us safe and prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the concept is far deeper than this. Through this pandemic I have had time to reflect on my bubble, and the impact it has made on my life's trajectory. I can say for certain that bringing God into my bubble has been the greatest gift of all, because as isolated as some us might have felt, with God in our life, we are never truly alone.

What lessons have you learned during the lockdown? Share your insights in the comment section below.

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