Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in our hearts

The State of Israel, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, may need a lot of rethinking, and their relationship to Covid-19 demands careful reflection.

Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf and Phil Chernofsky ,

Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in Our Hearts
Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in Our Hearts

We spent seder night, like our ancestors, secluded in our homes. The rest of Pesach was more of the same: Stay at home. Now, though some restrictions have been lifted, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we will once again be in lockdown. No gatherings with family and friends, no nation coming together in parks across the country. Just stay at home.

Perhaps we were ordered to have Seder alone—so that we would speak a little less about that geula, and listen more to the voice of geula all around us. Perhaps that’s why again, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we’re being told that instead of going out there, we need to stay in here; in the realm of our deepest, truest, inner selves.

Rabbi David Kohen, the holy Nazir of Yerusholayim, taught that the particular avoda, the particular spiritual practice of this era of unfolding geula, is shmiya, listening. At Sinai, we “heard” God, we didn’t see Him. The quintessential Jewish prayer is the Shema; a call to the nation, and to every Jew, to listen. And every Jew, begins every year, listening to the voice of the shofar. And so, if, as R. Dessler says, the voice of Eliyahu, the voice heralding the final stage of geula, comes in the form of historical events, then does it not behoove us, particularly on Yom Ha’atzmaut, particularly on a day marking a salvation and remarkably profound shift in the course of Jewish history—a shift towards Eretz Yisrael, towards Yerusholayim, and towards Har Habayit—to listen?

And, just like it was impossible during Pesach in the midst of Corona not to look at things differently—not to listen differently—then the same must be true, perhaps even more so, on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

For years, my greatest fear was that something would transpire, that the exits from America would slam shut, and we’d be cut off from Israel, and then 9/11 happened. I remember the kids being in lockdown in their schools and being told not to come and get them. I didn’t listen. I went to the schools and got our kids. I had no clue what was going on, but I knew that I just wanted us all together at home. A short time later, we put our house on the market.

Newsweek magazine quoted R. Yacov Perlow, the Noviminsker Rebbe (recently deceased from the virus), as saying, “Today, the world is not the same as it was yesterday. If we are the same as we were yesterday, then it is pure folly.” The shofar we heard said, “Come home, I just want us all together.” Over my desk, I put another quote that read, “What if 9/11 was a wake-up call, and we didn’t wake up?” Twelve years after 9/11, we made aliyah.

And then Corona.

Six weeks ago, March 18 to be exact, Israel closed its doors. I broke down and sobbed. What about all those Birthright trips? What about all those young people that spend a year or two in yeshiva, seminary, or university? What about all those families that come for chagim and bar and bat mitzvahs? What about …

Suddenly, Next Year in Jerusalem became, oh my God, will Israel ever again be as accessible to Jews as it was up until March 18, 2020? Is the door closing?

My dear brothers and sisters, forgive me, but on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I believe that we need to retreat into the private, inner chambers of our hearts, and see if we don’t hear the voice of the Eliyahu: The tekia and terua of geula all around us; the notes of redemption sounding from within the State, and the melody of redemption echoing from Yerusholayim.

As it says in the Yom Ha’atzmaut machzor: Following the evening prayer, “One returns home with a feeling of joy, and greetings are exchanged—Moadim l’simcha, l’geula shleima.”