Shavuot and the End of COVID-19

During the height of the fear, anxiety, and tumult of COVID-19, we all hoped, prayed, and longed for its speedy conclusion. The loss of life, the shutting down of society as we knew it, and the fear of the unknown was crippling. There are still long term Covid effects that remain for many. I can honestly say that I never thought I would miss any aspect of COVID-19 once it passed; but I do.


Believe me, I am truly grateful to G-d, as well as our medical professionals, who shepherded us through the frightening times of Covid. There’s only one thing that I miss from that time: there seemed to be an unspoken message that reverberated throughout the world that IF we emerged from this horror, we would be better. We would be kinder, we would make better choices, refine our value system, and not get stuck in the mud of the small stuff that gets in the way of living life well. While we spent weeks and months close to home ordering on Instacart and working remotely, there was a silent pledge that we could and would be better if given the chance.


So how are we doing? Are we living up to that pledge? 


And now, as of earlier this month, the federal Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 is over. 


Are we just going to waive goodbye to our aspirations and leave them in the rearview mirror?


Maybe the holiday of Shavuot can help lend some perspective. See the following passage from the Talmud that describes the state of the world at the moment G-d advanced the Ten Commandments at Sinai:


Rabbi Abbahu said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When G-d gave the Torah, no bird was chirping, no fowl was flying, no cow mooed, the sea did not roar, and in fact, no creature uttered a sound. Even in the spiritual world, no angels flapped a wing, nor did they chant any praise of God. Rather, throughout the entire world there was only a deafening silence as the Divine Voice went forth speaking, “I am the Lord your God."


Why did the world need to be in a state of silence? No doubt that the thunder, lightning, and spiritual preparations engendered a holy and even mystical environment. However, I believe it was more than that.


The Israelites and the world generally were on the cusp of a Paradigm Shift like no other in world history before or since. They changed from a world Pre-Torah to a world Torah-Informed. There would be no turning back. For that change to be processed and absorbed, a silent space was required.


Shavuot is the time of year where Jews stay up all night studying Torah and we relive the Sinai experience. Just as the Israelites at Sinai received the Torah, so too we reaffirm our connection and commitment to the Torah that has guided us and sustained us for the last 3338 years. Outside the synagogues and study halls it is very quiet in the wee hours of the night, just as it was at Sinai. 


The 48 hours of Shavuot which begin tonight, May 25 at sunset until Saturday, May 27 when the stars appear is a sacred and quiet space a bit reminiscent of the pandemic for us to once again recalibrate, consider and pledge how we want to advance in our lives. Do we want to just carry on, or are there some changes we would like to try?


3338 years ago, after Shavuot there were incredible changes established that we benefit from until today. May we merit aspiring to and accomplishing all that we want to after Shavuot this year as well.


Chag Somayach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence