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Parshot/Festivals

The vaccine for spiritual complacency

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The news that the Moderna vaccine is at least somewhat effective against the South African strain of coronavirus was met with some sense of relief and restoration of hope that an end is in sight even if not as quickly as we had originally thought.

But we need to remain vigilant because, as our doctors continuously remind us, whether it’s from China, South Africa, the United Kingdom or whatever other mutation it takes on, this virus, in any and every form, will kill unless it itself is killed.

Perhaps this clear and unambiguous guidance might also be a model we could start applying a little more forcefully to our own sense of divine purpose and living.

As we hope and pray and follow all the rules so that with Hashem’s help, we’ll soon be redeemed from the slavery of COVID-19, we would do well to take lessons from our first story of lockdown, slavery, and fatal oppression, not from a deadly virus, but an evil Pharaoh.

This week and Shabbat, we read the story of the Jewish people taking the plunge into the sea of the unknown ahead of them, and finally celebrating the crushing defeat of the virus of Egyptian tyranny.

The virus of this first mutation of antisemitism was also deadly, unpredictable, and – most terrifyingly – constantly changing to adapt to the different forms of resistance that Moshe, through the word of Hashem, inspired in the people.

Rashi quotes the great sage Rabbi Shimon who asks: where did the horses come from for the cavalry that Pharaoh led towards the sea? Weren’t they all killed in the plague? He answers that sadly, it was the “G-d-fearing” Egyptians who had hidden their horses during the plagues who now put them at Pharaoh’s disposal. Why? Because even the “best” of the evil Egyptians bore an inner sinister hatred of the Hebrews, and therefore needed to be crushed as well.

Today, the threat of the Egyptians is but a footnote to our glorious history. But the danger of our “inner” Egyptian virus, the egocentric pull towards a g-dless pursuit of materialistic pleasure and an illusory freedom from purpose (and slavery to societal conformity) is threating to destroy us.

The beautiful, generation-old “traditional South African Judaism” comes with a potentially viral complacency that in today’s rapidly progressive world can lead to a fatal irrelevance of our sacred heritage and its vital message to the world today.

We have a choice – kill it, or be destroyed by it.

We must obliterate that acceptance of mediocrity, and replace it with our absolute commitment to and engagement with a dynamic, compelling, and consistent celebration of our faith and our Judaism. That’s our only vaccine. Will we use it?

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