After corona: What will we do with our health?

Let us hope we remember those we lost to the coronavirus and that our main goal is not health, but that health enables us to strive for it.

Sivan Rahav-Meir ,

Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-Meir
Eyal ben Ayish

"Shalom Sivan, My name is Yael Steiner. Today is the first anniversary of the passing of my father-in-law, Aryeh Even, who was the first corona casualty in Israel. A year ago we did not want to speak with the media, but now we do.

Aryeh was secular, his son (my husband) became religiously observant, and we identify as hasidic. After a year of division between the secular and religious in Israel in the shadow of the corona, I think there is good reason to say something about Aryeh.

Aryeh was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel from Hungary, settled on a kibbutz, and served in the air force. He did not know much about Judaism. He remembered only that his grandfather called bread 'hamotzi' and knew how to recite the alef-beit with hasidic intonation.

Ostensibly, a big gap should have opened between father and son, but no. The opposite occurred. Aryeh was a much beloved father and grandfather. My husband was closely attached to him and would visit him several times a week. Ever so slowly, Aryeh softened in his relationship towards how we lived. For example, he began to answer 'Amen' to our blessings and those of his grandchildren, and that was deeply moving.

In our last visit to the nursing home, with all the grandchildren, we did not know that this would be our final meeting. He ordered us a kosher pizza with the highest kosher certification, as he was always strict about doing. Always with a smile, with concern, with love. He passed away on Shabbat, alone. We could not be by his side because of the corona restrictions.

One of the precious memories I recall is from the last winter of his life. Again, we did not know that he would soon be leaving us. My husband and I were walking in the rain that was pouring down. Suddenly my husband was reminded of a joke that someone had told him. He felt compelled just when the rain was at its peak to telephone his father in order to tell him the joke. I remember telling him that his phone would get wet, but he simply was unable to restrain himself, and his excitement rubbed off on me.

May these words elevate the soul of Aryeh ben Franz Efraim, the first corona casualty, and memorialize all the other corona victims, with a fervent hope that the most recent corona victim will also be the last."

And here are some thoughts from Dr. Rakefet Ben-Yishay about our world today:

"'The most important thing is our health.' We are so accustomed to hearing this statement, especially during the corona crisis, but have we thought for a moment if it is really correct? The Torah devotes around 40 verses to a description of the creation of the universe, but the mishkan (desert sanctuary), as it is described in our Torah portion, takes up around 400 verses. In other words, the Torah devotes a lot more attention to boards, fabrics, and vessels created by people than to all the wonders of nature created by G-d.

There is a profound message here: the creation of the world is only the foundation, the main thing is what we do in the world. The health of a human being is only the foundation. The main thing is what we do with our health. We did not come into this world just to survive, but in order to build and, in so doing, build ourselves. We are here to do good and to fill our lives with content and meaning. Physical health is important, and during the last year all of us were reminded how vital it is, but it is not the final goal.

Our sages held that the Shechinah (G-d's presence) is found beside the head of a sick person. In other words, a sick person has a different awareness, is preoccupied with soul searching, as the meaning of life is contemplated from a new perspective. During the last year, the entire world had the status of a sick person. More essential questions than usual were asked. We all left the routine of home-study-work while forced to think about ultimate goals and the essence of life. Now, when it seems we are finally leaving the corona behind, when we are beginning to recover, we need to ask ourselves what we learned, what we will change about our lives, what we will do with our health."

This past Shabbat, for the first time since the pandemic began, we were in the presence of many friends. The occasion was a Sheva Brachot celebration (held each day of the week following a marriage in honor of the new couple). I never thought I would get so excited over a conversation with friends around a dinner table. I never was so enthusiastic about candies thrown at the bridegroom when he received an aliyah to the Torah.

And then suddenly at the end of the Torah reading, I received an explanation for these wonderful feelings. In one of the final verses of the Book of Exodus, where an allusion is made to the journeys of the people through the desert, Rashi comments: *"The place of their encampment is also called a journey."* Not only the times that they moved forward are called journeys, but the encampments or stopovers as well. Even those times when they are compelled to stay in place are parts of the journey too; even then the people could learn and move forward in their growth and development. Our commentators explain that during every chapter of their journey, especially during the stopovers, they gathered strength for the next chapter.

We are moving ahead following a stopover that lasted a year, but this was not a year of wasted time, a void of nothingness. This year was also a chapter in our life's journey, during which we learned and moved forward, even if this was internal and hidden. And now we are moving again, only with increased strength.

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek! Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!

• Translation by Yehoshua Siskin