Reflections from Rabbi René – Man Plans and God Laughs

Keep calm and carry on

Once again, a new twist of fate! When we felt that we had gotten somewhere with the prospect of mass vaccination, there is now a new mutation of Covid-19 that has prompted the government to act in haste and to cancel the end of year festivities. Beyond the religious meaning of Christmas, it is for most people a time to be with family, to eat beyond measure, and to forget the hardship of winter. With these new tier-4 restrictions, this won’t be possible. We have seen London’s train stations overcrowded a few hours after the new measures were announced, and the motorways packed with vehicles trying to leave the capital. That situation teaches us that, when there is no perspective, people tend to lose their bearings and act erratically.

And to make things worse, all connections between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe were cut off on Sunday evening and Monday. Nobody can cross the channel, at least at the time I am recording this message, and flights to and from the UK are canceled. And of course, the possibility of a no deal Brexit.

It takes strength and resilience not to succumb to panic. And also, perspective. And yet, we don’t have another choice. What good does it bring to us to panic, to stockpile food? Britain is the country which has invented this wartime advice, “Keep calm and carry on”, and it was given in a much more trying time.

Life’s journey

In our Siddur, we have special readings for each Torah portion. This week, Vayigash, was chosen by the editors of the prayerbook to talk about “Life’s journey” (starting on page 198). How timely!

It starts with a verse from Torah, “Few and evil have been the years of my life” (Gen. 47:9).

So says Jacob to Pharaoh. What does he mean by ‘evil’? Hard? Sad? Disappointing? Perhaps all these; we cannot know. But his words prompt a question about ourselves. How should we assess our lives in retrospect? By what yardstick is life to be measured? One thing is certain: that our time on earth is limited; therefore, whatever we believe to be its purpose, we had better learn to use it well.

In the subsequent collection of thoughts, Rabbi John Rayner quotes a verse from Psalm 90: “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. A heart of wisdom, or the capacity to envisage our life in the larger picture.

Perspective is precisely what we need now. I know, it’s hard. We shouldn’t ignore our feelings. They are real and they direct our actions.

Resilience and community

But look at what we have achieved together this year, as a community. We have had meaningful services online. The first big test was the online Pesach Seder back in March, and it went really well. We were together for the High Holy Days, and all Shabbats. We have carried on our learning, and we have managed to worship with other LJ communities and to welcome people living far away from KLS. We have developed a team of callers who have reached out to those who are isolated. That is how resilient we are. Despite the worries around us, we have kept our community very much alive.

As I said in the beginning, another twist of fate. Oh well, let’s keep calm and carry on. We cannot change what is happening around us, but we can help. Reach out to those who are lonely in this time of the year and give them a phone call. Let them feel they are not alone. As for me, I will see you on Friday evening for a service, and on Shabbat morning for a study session on Jewish Jesus.

As you know, I am on Sabbatical in January, and everything is ready to ensure that KLS carries on its mission. It is a very unusual time, and I will keep an eye on the community. If you need me, please feel free to give me a call. I had some plans to go abroad, but here you are! As the Yiddish proverb says, Man tracht un Got lacht, we make plans, and God laughs.

So, why don’t we laugh with God, and accept that not much is under control? We have each other, and that is what really matters.