By SIMONE COHEN SCOTT
Winnipeg Beach, July 11, 2020
My usual practice is to spend the winter months in Jerusalem, returning to Canada in early April. That didn’t happen this year. I didn’t take the Coronavirus seriously until it was too late to ‘get out of town’, so to speak. I ignored the general talk as I have with the other ‘sky is falling’ viruses, just doubling up on Vitamin C and Ecinacea as a precaution.
Then it was too late to get a flight out! “Just as well”, I thought, as I was in the throes of a squabble with an insurance company, and it seemed best to be on the spot rather than trust to calls and emails from abroad. And thus I found myself in quarantine. Bombarded by the media with statistics that I was ‘at risk’ due to my age, I began to feel really old and seemed to need a lot of sleep. Upon hearing tales of what was being experienced all over the country, I became afraid.
For the first while I didn’t dare step out of my apartment. Finally I ventured to the pharmacy. A line of people waited outside. Because I had ignored the pandemic panic I was unfamiliar with all the regs, and so was taken by surprise. It was a small store, only one customer allowed in at a time. When my turn came, my mind went blank….completely. I began to browse, and was immediately scolded by the pharmacist. Quickly buying a toothbrush I left and walked directly home, passing the grocery store although I needed milk, bread, butter, eggs, and sundry other things. (I was never out of toilet paper.)
Just as I began to sink into deep lethargy, I received a call from my upstairs neighbour offering to pick up groceries for me, if I gave her a list. I must tell you here that my upstairs neighbours are very kind to me, and not just because it was their faulty plumbing that had impacted my apartment, hence the aforementioned insurance claim. They simply are extraordinarily nice people! At Pesach they brought me the traditional Seder plate and Seder meal, loaned me a very interesting Hagaddah, and thereafter for several weeks brought me my Shabbat meal.
Eventually however, I got around to ordering in a full pantry of groceries, plus a supply of masks, gloves, and sterilizing wipes, and my negative state of mind lifted. I began to realize that this unexpected, unstructured time, was an opportunity to meditate and reflect. I looked for but couldn’t find commentaries, by any sort of clergyperson, on the name of the epidemic.
Covid, to my untrained ear, is a Hebrew word, one of the various manifestations of the root KBD. Kavod, meaning dignity, honour, respect, homage, is what G-d has told us many times He wants us to direct towards Him. This is what it is to worship and glorify G-d, that is, pay Him honour and respect. The root of Kavod itself implies ‘heaviness’, as in ‘being of great importance’. By altering its vowels the word can also depict man’s inner condition, his spiritual or his physical state, in other words his soul…..or his liver. In some places the Tenach uses a variation in pronunciation to describe the immensity of sins, as it does the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.
My research did not go into any great depth. Wikipedia had plenty of information for me to dwell on. I have no idea how Covid or Corona became the names of the virus. I went on instead to the number 19. Immediately there jumped to mind the Hebrew number 18, known generally to Jews as the number which symbolizes ‘life’, due either to gematria or to its Hebrew letters spelling ‘Chai’.
My “research” uncovered darker meanings too, but I didn’t go there; for the purpose of my musings there was already enough to contemplate. Once the number 18 (also the number of the Rambam’s list of blessings) is subtracted, what remains is one unit. ONE. AHAD. Need I say more? I will anyway. That G-d is One is the whole point of the Shma, the prayer on awakening, on going to sleep, on the doorpost, wound around the arm and forehead, the topic to discuss with our children when we’re walking, when we’re sitting around, no doubt when we’re driving, something to be worked into all of our conversations.
Alone in quarantine these thoughts were circulating and recirculating ad infinitum it seemed, in my head, but I never spoke them out loud. Once restrictions began to loosen, I was the first guest invited by my upstairs neighbours for a Shabbat meal. Here was an opportunity to articulate (read jabber) my insights! The poor dears were treated to a monologue, as I shared almost every thought I’d had for the last few months. What a treat for me! Before the pandemic, their Shabbat table would welcome at least six or eight others. Now I had their sole attention (albeit six feet away), and there were no interruptions.
Finally, at about the time I could venture out walking around on Jaffa Street, looking for summer clothing, (my Jerusalem wardrobe had not anticipated a heat wave), the insurance company issued me a cheque. Mundane tasks overcame my lofty spiritual thoughts. My task at hand was now to open a bank account; this is another story, a humdinger for another time. Finally, workman in place to completely strip my bedroom walls and ceiling and replaster and paint them, I booked a flight home to Canada.
And here I am, having nicely finished 14 days of self-isolation at my Winnipeg Beach cottage, looking forward to a long, lazy season, without any of the usual structure…Beach Shul, Remis Forum, Rotary Club.
In Jerusalem I learned to do ‘lazy’ very nicely; here, reality has set in. A call from Jerusalem tells me that removal of the walls has revealed more than the insurance adjuster reckoned. Cost of repair will be double what the company gave me. Well, never mind that; here’s what’s important! Being closeted in Jerusalem during the isolation has left me a little like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine: “What, me worry?”
It has been a type of religious experience, similar to time spent in a retreat or in an Elijah cave of sorts, and it has led me to this conclusion: Our world is heavy with sin. A quick survey of the chaos now surrounding us bares this out. We must stop and turn ourselves around to face G-d, trusting only Him, giving Him the honour and respect, the glory, the Kovid, due Him. It is for this purpose He has given us Chai, our life, and He is Ahad, the One and only One Who is in charge, and not we ourselves.