There is a new marker of time in our home. My children call it BC - Before Corona. “Remember Before Corona when we went to shul?” “One time, Before Corona, when I went to my friend’s house...” “A long time ago, Before Corona when I was at school...”
It’s hard for adults. But for kids, it’s heartbreaking. What we would give to go back to normal again? Because this, whatever this is, is not normal. And now it’s slowly dawning on us that normal is far, far away. Whatever school will be this year, it won’t be normal. Whatever Shul will be for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur this year, it won’t be normal. Neither will malls, or vacations or travel. None of it will be like it was BC - Before Corona. None of it will be normal.
But what is normal? It’s a hard concept to pin down. Now they say we have a “new normal”. But how long until “new normal” is just “normal”. What’s the gestation for a “normal” until it’s no longer new? And is there any objective measure that makes last years normal more normal than now? Other than familiarity, of course?
I share these questions with you because this week, this Shabbos, we are in the darkest time of our year. These days from Rosh Chodesh Av until Tisha B’av are days set aside to consider what normal is really supposed to be. And how far we are from it. But the truth is, it’s been a few thousand years since anything was normal.
The story is told of Reb Menachel Nachum of Chernobyl, the Meor Einayim (1770-1837). During one of his many travels he once stayed at the inn of a simple Jew. As was his practice, Reb Nachum woke up every night at midnight to say Tikun Chatzos (the prayer to mourn for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash).
That night in the inn, far away from his family and community, Reb Nachum lost himself in words of the Tefillah and began to cry over the ongoing suffering of our people.
Hearing the crying, the inn-keeper, woke up and quickly ran to Rav Nachum’s room to see if everything was alright. “Rebbe, I heard you crying, is something wrong?” Rav Nachum responded, “I was crying over the destruction of the Temple.”
But the inn keeper, a simple man who was raised with little education asked: “Rebbe, I am not familiar with the Temple or its destruction.” Reb Nachum’s eyes lit up as he proceeded to explain to the inn-keeper about the Bais HaMikdash and what it meant to our people. He spoke about Yerushalayim, and David HaMelech, of prophecy and nationhood, of Moshiach and the yearning to return. And he when concluded his explanation, Reb Nachum turned and said, “My dear brother, don’t despair, Moshiach will come soon and we will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. But tell me when Moshiach comes, will you be ready to travel to the land of Israel?”
The inn-keeper, ever pragmatic, responded, “Rebbe, this is a very important question. I have to ask my wife.” So at 3am, the inn-keeper shook his wife awake and explained to her the conversation he had with their peculiar and saintly guest. He told her about the Beis HaMikdash and Israel and Moshiach, and that when he comes, please God soon, the Rabbi says we can go! For the very first time, this Jewish couple was talking about Jewish destiny and their place in it.
But a while later the inn-keeper returned to Rebbe and said: “Rebbe, my wife and I discussed your generous offer, and she makes a good point. We cannot go to the Land of Israel when Moshiach comes, because we have invested our whole life and livelihood in this inn. We have cows, chickens and horses and a host of responsibilities. What will be with them if we just get up and leave?”
The Rebbe would not relent. “My dear friend, he continued, “There is so much anti-Semitism, the Tartars, the Cossacks – every day there is someone else who wants to kill you. Forget about the animals and the inn and promise me that when Moshiach comes you will come with us to the Land of our Ancestors”.
The inn-keeper was all to familiar with Jew hatred and the Rebbe’s words washed over him like a splash of cold water. “Rebbe” he said, “I understand – let me go discuss it with my wife.”
The inn-keeper returned a few minutes later, “Rebbe we discussed it, and my wife has a fantastic idea. Listen to this,” he said excitedly. “When Moshiach comes, you can arrange for him to take the Tartars and Cossacks to the Land of Israel, and then we’ll be able to stay here in peace!”
Reb Nachum cried that night saying that the deepest devastation of exile is when we don’t even want to go home.
The Shela HaKadosh, Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz writes (סוף עשרת הדברות, מסכת סוכה, דרך חיים):
“I must tell you what burns deepest in my heart: When I see Jews building their exquisite houses and setting up a permanent home in this world, in a land of impurity. And of course, it is true, that the Talmud tells us that one day the homes of tzadikim will be lifted to Eretz Yisrael. But there are so many who are building here, wanting nothing more than to leave a legacy and inheritance for their descendants. It seems to me, God forbid, that they have forgotten the meaning of Redemption, they have forgotten the meaning of home.”
Home is Eretz Yisrael. Home is Yerushalayim. Home is Jewish Sovereignty, with peace and safety and security. Home is dignity. Home is prosperity. Home is the ability and desire to keep the Torah, to value the Torah, and to uphold the values of the Torah and never to be afraid.
This Shabbos, Moshe tells us: רב לכם שבת בהר הזה פנו וסעו לכם - It’s been long enough that you’re settled at this mountain. It’s time to move on.
The Kli Yakar explains:
הסבו פניכם אל הארץ וסעו לכם אל עצמות מקור שלכם כי משם נוצר חומר של אדה״ר כדרך שאמר לאברהם לך לך
Moshe is telling them... Turn your attention to the Land. To the essence of your source. From that soil Adam HaRishon was created. Like Hashem told Avraham: Go to yourself.
This year Hashem has flung us up into the air. And I don’t want to land where we started. I don’t want the new normal or the old normal. This week, this year, more than ever, I want to go home.