I’ve been sucked into more anxiety about coronavirus/COVID-19. Shuls (synagogues) are closing down for the indefinite future, which is scary. Even the Nazis couldn’t stop Jews praying together, but apparently coronavirus can. Now I’m having all kinds of fears about the next few weeks, the run up to Pesach, perhaps the most intensive Jewish festival in terms of preparation. It’s like Christmas on steroids, in terms not just of cooking, but cleaning and kashering (removing all trace of food and taste from utensils, sinks, ovens etc. usually using intense heat).
What if I get COVID-19 and can’t kasher our kitchen for Pesach? Will that cause problems? What if Mum gets it and can’t cook (I can do some of the cooking, but I don’t know how to cook meat)? How will we have a seder if some of us (meaning, my family) have it and some of us don’t? And, of course, the underlying worry, what if Mum gets it with her immune system suppressed? That’s probably the root fear at the moment. There isn’t much I can do about any of this, really. I know on the “worry tree,” this would all be hypothetical. Except it doesn’t feel hypothetical, it feels very real, particularly when this is the only subject on the news.
Margaret commented the other day to say that she envied me my faith. It’s strange, because I don’t feel like I have strong faith and haven’t for a long time. I mean, I believe, but in Judaism there’s a difference between emunah, belief that God exists on the one hand, and bitachon, trust that God will protect, on the other. I struggle a lot with bitachon. There is just so much bad stuff in the world, and there has been so much bad stuff in my life. On some level I do believe that God is in control and that everything is for the best, but it’s hard to see that in the world around me sometimes. And I don’t like easy answers about “everything will turn out for the best” because it seems a betrayal of my experience and the experiences of millions of others who suffered.
There’s a joke about a rabbi who spends years searching for the meaning of life, studying Torah, Tanakh, Midrash, Mishnah, Gemarah, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Mussar, everything Jewish, and at the ends, after years of searching he sits up and says, “Life is good.” And then he pauses and thinks and says, “But if life is good… how come it’s so bad?” That’s probably a very Jewish joke. To say that everything is good and some things are bad. That’s a line we actually see in our holy texts and even in halakhah (Jewish law). That’s the twist at the end of Iyov (Job), that God is in control… but it’s Iyov who questioned God’s justice who is vindicated by God, not his friends who mouthed platitudes about everything being for the best. Iyov was true to our experience of the world and the greatness of God; he didn’t cut God down to size to fit our preconceptions.
That’s also the meaning of an interesting halakhah. If something good happens, we say one blessing to thank God for it. If something bad happens, we say a different blessing, to accept God’s decree. So the Talmud asks, what do you do if something happens which is bad now, but will be good later (the example is a flood, which destroys this year’s crop, but deposits sediment that will fertilise next year’s crop and make it grow better) and it says we say the “bad thing” blessing, because that’s our experience now. When the Messiah comes, we will say the “good thing” blessing all the time, because we’ll see the good that is present in the bad, but now we’re not there yet, we have to recognise the bad and not deny it.
Jews do think that there’s no contradiction in saying (A) A benevolent, omnipotent God controls the universe for the good and (B) Many things in the universe seem, to our subjective experience, bad, even very bad. I know since I got back together with E. that a lot of things that seemed bad in the past now seem like they happened for a reason, to get us both together. So maybe we’ll look back on this one day and understand it. But for now, a lot of things seem bad, and it’s enough of a struggle just to see the bad and accept it as from God without trying to find the deeper meaning.
Ugh, I’m not sure where I’m going with this any more. Sorry, that turned into a bit of a ramble.
I’m still trapped in a nocturnal cycle, which is not good. I stayed up late yesterday doing Torah study and working on my novel, then watching TV to unwind a bit before bed. I think I need a ‘no screens after 11pm rule’ as it can be hard to sleep afterward TV or computer use – not always, but sometimes, which makes me take a chance too often. I wanted to get up earlier today as I knew the doctor was phoning (a phone appointment I made before coronavirus made the surgery switch entirely to distance appointments) and wanted to be dressed and ready beforehand, but I was very depressed and exhausted as usual on waking at 10am and stayed in bed drifting in and out of sleep until 11.45am. I felt better after eating something, which makes me wonder if there’s a better way of dealing with this, but I was still in pyjamas when the doctor phoned. I used to feel bad about taking phone calls in my pyjamas, but over the years it’s become normal. In a way it’s good that I’ve adjusted somewhat to my illnesses and issues, but in other ways it feels bad, like I should be pushing myself more.
The doctor wrote me a new medical certificate. He sent me a copy on my phone that I could print, but, of course, he hasn’t signed it, because it’s online, and now I’m worried what the Department of Work and Pensions will say. I’m sure that the doctor has written medical certificates online before, but I still worry. More troubling than this, I can’t get the form to download or print properly and I can’t work out why. It won’t download on my phone nor will it download or print on my laptop or my Dad’s laptop. I need to speak to the surgery tomorrow.
I also asked the doctor about the stomach cramps I’ve been experiencing and he felt that as they were intermittent and becoming less frequent they weren’t anything to worry about.
The rest of the day was another day of functioning, but not thriving, with moments of strong depression. It took me about two hours to cook dinner. Partly this was because I was listening to a podcast (Giles Fraser talking to Rabbi Lord Sacks on Unherd) and am bad at multitasking and stop cooking to listen at times, but partly it was because I was overwhelmed emotionally a couple of times.
I spent some time on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. I was hoping to get this done quickly and use some time later in the week for preparing divrei Torah for the Pesach sederim, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes, although I did at least learn more than I knew when I started writing and researching. Sefaria.org is an amazing site for out of copyright Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic and also sometimes in translation, although I’ve been warned that not all the translations are accurate.
That was about all I managed to do today. I wanted to work on my novel too, but decided it was too late and I was too tired. I’m not going to reach my “no screens after 11pm” target tonight, but I might get off my laptop shortly after 11.00 if I don’t work on my novel, then finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I’m halfway through some time before midnight.
My parents’ copy of my non-fiction Doctor Who book arrived today. Dad asked me to sign it, insisting me it should not just be “To Mum and Dad, with love,” but something personal. I’m pretty bad at this sort of writing. My birthday cards usually just say “Dear X, happy birthday! Have a great day! Love Luftmentsch”. I need to think of something. My parents do watch Doctor Who, but they aren’t avid fans, so in-jokes like “Happy times and places!” aren’t going to work.
To explain about the title, I thought it was a good title, but I don’t really have anything to say here at the moment about me and E. (yes, it’s going fine, no I don’t want to jinx it by speaking to much about it, or violate her confidence or our privacy). But I thought it was a good title, so it’s staying even though it doesn’t relate at all to the contents of the post. Think of it in the tradition of Doctor Who titles that bear little relation to the episodes they grace, like Coronas of the Sun (not Coronaviruses of the Sun).