The chasidic rabbi, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, taught the idea that we are to praise God with each and every breath since each breath is new, a gift from God. Whatever praise we may have offered already no longer applies; each moment demands its own response. And, if each breath is new, then we are also new. We can present ourselves as new before God, truly transformed through teshuvah (repentence).
As we prepare to turn the corner on the secular new year, and look forward to putting 2020 behind us, I would like to reflect on this teaching.
Over the past several weeks, I have been certainly offering praise to God with every breath that I take. Since contracting Covid-19 and watching my family have it as well, the notion of breath has been quite powerful. Even more powerful than when I thought about it in the spring when the virus first emerged. I have been depending on inhalers to control my cough and I have been conscious of my breathing, and there are many moments where I am brought back the weeks in November when I was checking the pulse oximeter around the clock to make sure everyone in my house had what they needed.
Each breath that my husband, our sons and I took was in fact a gift from God, and every moment of contact that we received was a blessing from so many people, near and far. The food, the coffee, the texts, the calls, the medical advice and more helped us breathe a bit easier. For each and every breath our community took to help support our family during those days, we are grateful.
But as the Berditchever rabbi taught, there is also a sense of reflection that must happen as we take new breaths. Healing itself is a privilege. During the course of the recovery it became apparent that so many factors go into not only the transmission of the disease but the healing from it. The ability for our family to have health insurance, to have full time jobs, to have extraordinary medical care at a facility (NYU Langone) that is working each and every day to make sure that its patients get the care they need to have the best chance of survival, are things that make me extraordinarily grateful and are things that I don’t take for granted. It also reminds me that we are grateful to have this access to excellent medical care. Grateful to live and work in NYC. Grateful to have friends in the medical community who were able to explain what was going on. Grateful to heal.
Each breath that my husband, our sons and I took was in fact a gift from God.
So as my family emerges with the ability to take stronger breaths in 2021 than in 2020, the teshuva (reflection and repentance) that I will do is the following:
- Think about ways that we can help people who need it to have access to medical care.
- Do my best to reach out to people the way others reached out to us while my whole family was sick.
- Continue to ensure that our community remains strong so that we can support each other while remaining safe.
- Continue to pray and see God’s reflection in the work of the hands of so many essential workers, who put their lives on the line each day by going into work.
We often say “take a breath” to get someone to relax, or calm down, or shift perspective. As we enter 2021 let us all breathe with relief that soon enough of a vaccine will be here for all (and celebrate those who have already taken it). Let us breathe in appreciation for what we have. And let us each take a breath, knowing that we have potential to do something with each new day as we get to work to repair our world so that all can heal.
Rabbi Rachel Ain is the Rabbi at Sutton Place Synagogue in Midtown Manhattan and lives with her husband and two sons in New York City. All four of them had Covid this November.