Emerging from COVID-19: Jewish quotes on a return to normalcy

"From sorrow into joy... from darkness into great light."

NATAN AND Avital Sharansky in their Jerusalem home. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
NATAN AND Avital Sharansky in their Jerusalem home.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
 Thank God, the State of Israel has begun to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and we are returning slowly but surely to the routine of schools and shopping malls and even places of entertainment. A few days ago, I received an email from a rabbinic colleague. He wrote that he is preparing a lecture about emerging from the current crisis and he asked me if I could suggest some sources that relate to this type of situation. After sending him a list of sources, I decided that it was worth sharing these sources with Magazine readers.
WE READ in Genesis 8:20: 
“Noah built an altar unto the Lord… and he offered burnt offerings on the altar.” 
In other words, after a worldwide natural disaster, Noah thanked God by offering sacrifices.
THE NEXT source is Exodus 14-15: 
“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians… And Israel saw the great work that the Lord did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord; and they believed in the Lord, and in His servant Moses. Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation.”
We can learn from this passage that after God saved the Children of Israel from the hand of Egypt, Moses and the Children of Israel sang a song of thanksgiving to God. 
IN THE Scroll of Esther, which we read on Purim, it says (9:21-22): 
“To enjoin them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a festival; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”
Thus we see that after victory over enemies who wanted to destroy the entire Jewish people, Mordechai enacted a holiday to be celebrated every year. 
WE READ in I Maccabees 4:52-59: 
“Early in the morning on the 25th day of the ninth month… they rose and offered a sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them… Then Judah and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the 25th day of the month of Kislev.” 
In other words, after the victory over the Greek-Syrians, Judah and his brothers enacted the holiday of Hanukkah, to be celebrated for eight days every year.
WE LEARN in the Tractate of Berakhot 54b: 
“Said Rav Judah in the name of Rav: Four must give thanks: those who return from a sea voyage, those who return from a journey in the desert, a person who was seriously ill and recovered, and a person who was held captive in a prison and was released… What does he bless? Rav Judah said: Blessed are You… who bestows good things.” 
In other words, the Sages of Babylon enacted that after a person is saved from a dangerous journey or from a serious illness or from prison, he/she is required to bless the Hagomel blessing.
AFTER THE expulsion of the Jews from Spain, it was difficult for the Jews who had been expelled to deal with their distressful situation; they had lost families and property and status. One of them, Rabbi Yosef Gerson, wrote as follows (Joseph Hacker, Hapezurah Hasefaradit, edited by Joseph Kaplan, Jerusalem, 1993, pp. 34-35): 
“Because I believe that the merit of the trust which we trusted in God to come from the ends of the earth from the teeth of lions to look for the word of God… this is the merit which brought us to these countries… and the Blessed God saved us from their hands and brought us in peace… in a way that we can say that every one of us is a friend of God who loved God.” 
This shows us that the Jews who were expelled from Spain thanked God for saving them from their enemies and for bringing them in peace to a safe haven. 
IN FEBRUARY 1986, Natan Sharansky was freed from the Soviet gulag after nine years of cruel imprisonment as revenge for his struggle to free the Jews of the Soviet Union and to allow them to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. On the plane from Moscow to Berlin, the KGB agent announced:
“Sharansky, Anatoly Borisovich, I am authorized to declare to you that by order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, for conduct unworthy of a Soviet citizen, you have been stripped of Soviet citizenship and as an American spy you are being expelled from the Soviet Union.  
Sharansky, in turn, made the following declaration: 
“First, I am pleased that 13 years after I asked to be deprived of Soviet citizenship, my wish has finally been granted. Second, I shall use this occasion to declare once again: my activities as a Jewish activist… have nothing to do with espionage or treason. This work was not only in the interests of those people whose rights I defended, but also in the interests of the entire society in which I was forced to live.”
And then he took the Book of Psalms, the only possession he was allowed to take with him, and turned to Psalm 30, which he had long ago decided to recite at the moment of his release, and he read:
“I extol You, O Lord, for You have raised me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me; 
O Lord my God, I cried out to You, and you healed me. 
O Lord, You brought me up from Sheol, preserved me from going down into the pit… 
Weeping may linger for the night, but at dawn there are shouts of joy…”
And when he reached the Kotel together with his wife Avital, who had fought for his release for 12 years, with the Book of Psalms in his hand, he kissed the Kotel and said: “Barukh mateer assurim, Blessed is He who liberates the imprisoned” (Natan Sharansky, Fear No Evil, New York, 1988, pp. 408-409, 416).
THIS MOVING passage returns us to the upcoming holiday of Passover. In the Haggadah, at the end of the Maggid section, we declare before Hallel:
“Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, raise up, beautify, bless, extol and adore Him who made all these miracles for our ancestors and ourselves. He brought us forth from slavery into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Let us say before Him a new song, Hallelujah!”
It says in the Talmud (Niddah 31b), “A person involved in a miracle does not recognize the miracle.” In my opinion, the development of the COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year, is no less a miracle than some of the other miracles that I have just mentioned. 
May it be God’s will that the State of Israel and the entire world may complete the program of vaccinations in the near future so that all humankind will be able to thank God who has taken us from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and let us say before Him a new song Hallelujah! 
Hag sameah!
The writer, a rabbi and professor, serves as president of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. in Jerusalem.