BS”D By Dvir Cahana July 17, 2020
It is hard to know the longterm effects that Covid-19 will have on our society. With more insight I’m sure that many possible trends will be explained and traced back to the Pandemic that took us all by surprise. But what is certain is that it has forced us to collect ourselves and to recollect on where our own lives fit in to the grander scheme of things. All it took was 5 μm to send the rest of the 500 million km² into complete disarray.
It is often comforting to keep our daily lives moving at a fast pace to numb us from being aware of life’s fragile. The white noise spares us from the torment of this inescapable truth. In the Torah, the difference between the pain of the people in Egypt and their pain in the desert. Their wails are unspecified expression of their hardship, “וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙” (Exodus 3:7) “I have heard their outcry”. But in the desert their pain converges with their heightened sense of death. And in the many instances in which the people complain in the desert they put death at the forefront of their pain which causes the desire to return back to Egypt. Being a cog in a larger system might be exploitative, and oppressive, but when slowing things down and dissolving our quotidian tasks to the backdrop, the realization that the persistence of life is perpetually teetering on a dubiously thin tightrope. Yesterday, in teaching these ideas at Kehillat Harlem’s Torah musings, Dimitry, one of the founders of this weekly class made an insightful remark that the Torah, itself, demonstrates a deceleration of time by stuffing the billions of years that preceded humanity in the creation story into a single chapter. Then spending ten chapters to breeze through the next twenty generations, followed by forty chapters that focus on four generations. The second book of Moses, Exodus, is also Forty chapters spanning four generations however we spend the majority of the book dealing with the final generation with an emphasis on Moses’ life. Following the chronicles of Shemot it takes 40 chapters to arrive in the land of Israel. However, these chapters only describe these chapters only span a single year. This first time that they arrive in Israel, however, it is only 12 representatives that enter. How far away was Israel the entire time? The Torah tells us that the entire journey of entering the land of Israel was, you guessed it, 40 days, “וַיָּשֻׁבוּ, מִתּוּר הָאָרֶץ, מִקֵּץ, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם”.
The forty years from the moment of arriving at mount sinai begins in chapter 18 of Exodus, Parashat Ytro. In this chapter G-d commands the children to begin preparing to receive the Torah. This moment occurs on exactly the 120th to last chapter of the Torah. 40 chapters later, we find ourselves in chapter 17 of Leviticus. To orient you, we have just read about the inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan. Overwhelmed with spirituality, in the heat of the moment, Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, die. Chapter 17 sits right after the first chapter of Parashat Acharei Mot, which is such a central and heart wrenching story, that it is read on Yom Kippur. If we fast forward another 40 chapters we arrive at our Parshah Matot Numbers 30, which happens to be the perk right after the final Allyiah of the Yom Kippur Torah reading. And of course the next 40 chapters lead us directly to the end of the Torah, which is Moses’ last day on the planet which is also happens to be his 120th birthday.
These parallels in years also correspond with our own calendar. Forty days after Shavuot is the fast of Tamuz, which was just last week. 40 days from there is the beginning of Elul and 40 days from there is Yom Kippur. The slowing down and reflective process takes its most exaggerated extreme in the final book of Moses. The entire book spans one single day, and so the spectrum shifts from Genesis in which billions of years are perceived as a single day in G-d’s eyes, to the entire recapitulation of the Torah exists within the clock’s arm-breath of a single day. With the weight of the Coronavirus offsetting the mindset of expedience to a screeching halt we can see it as an opportunity to meditate and slow down our perspective on time. The Torah instructs us to start on Universal scale and to slowly spiral our attention on the microscopic on a yearly basis, but sometimes it takes an actual microscopic creature to calibrate our microscope’s lens.