Morning walk? Check. Boiled eggs and raisin bran? Check. Zoom Bat Mitzvah? Check. Time to pop a tylenol? Check. How was your shabbos?
Mine was, er, exothermic. At 3pm on erev shabbos, I got my COVID booster shot. I knew what to expect. Nine months earlier I got my second shot and spent that shabbos lying flat on my back with a fever that reached 100. Nothing ached, thank God, but I had to bow out of services completely. After havdalah and nearing my daily limit of tylenol, I made myself a rich tomato soup, and exorcised the ghost. Blessed garlic.
This time wasn’t as bad. I was determined to do this Bat Mitzvah, but I was worried. Would someone else need to take me? Would I need to conduct services sitting on a chair? Could I sing at all? I prepared for all contingencies before lighting candles. Fortunately, I was able to get myself there – largely because I had timed getting the shot for late in the afternoon on erev shabbos, and not on Thursday like the previous shot. That way, any side effects wouldn’t plow forward maybe until after the service ended, and in just enough time for my next flight out of Dodge.
I satisfactorily made it through. I got myself to shul just fine. I felt slightly light headed, but I had my stool and didn’t have to sing until the Torah service. Rabbi Flom, our Emeritus, was there when I needed him. It all went very smoothly – the young woman skated through with confidence, and by some miracle there were no Zoom glitches. And Yeah, I was able to sing and carry a sefer Torah without collapsing! Everybody had a great time.
Sitting for a COVID safe lunch on the back patio with my fellow faithful, I was able to gobble up the cholent, but hit a wall at the pasta. I then found the thought of another bite of challah sickening to my stomach. Time to go.
Made it home. Arrived to my incredibly comfortable couch, and as soon as the adrenaline wore off, steam valves opened. Maybe I’m being too dramatic – it wasn’t so bad. I only had to pop 3 tylenols for the remainder of the day, and still had an appetite for vegan ice cream and yes, a bit of challah with butter, but the act of standing up turned out to be a high-wire act. And this time, I could feel muscle fatigue and a slight aching. Blessed tylenol.
Indeed, blessed fever. In this sense 2021 brings yet another lifetime first: welcoming a fever – twice! Now, I’m not the kind of guy who panics over getting sick here and there, but fevers do bother me spiritually. And during the pandemic, I could not count the number of times I fitfully checked my temperature just before going out. In fact, I was unable to check my temperature this time for that very reason: apparently the batteries for all 3 of my thermometers had died!
But I could feel the steam emanating from my pores. I experienced it as a kind of release – a release from fear I could be infected with this deadly virus; a release of all those toxins which accompany the steam; a release of anger and rage over the epidemiological and political horror we have all witnessed. Blessed exodus.
Yea, blessed fever. Of course, it was blessed because it was protecting me from infection and not evidence of same, but also because there wasn’t too much of it, as in the rain. Choni the Circlemaker, of Jewish lore, would draw a circle around himself during a severe drought and shout for rain. His prayers were answered by a bomb cyclone. So he adjusted his shout: Bring blessed rain. Just the right amount. Goldilox rain. Goldilox fever.
Many of my colleagues have concocted pandemic-specific prayers, such as before putting on a mask, or getting the vaccine, or after being Zoom-bombed. I used to eschew such things, preferring to treat all this like tzedakah. You don’t delay your giving even the length of a blessing. You reach into your pocket and give. The same should apply to all other life-saving measures. If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill it.
But, damn, I’m feeling so prayerful right now! The gradient from fear to gratitude has suddenly been overturned, all of a sudden. Prayer seems the only way to address it. But which prayer or blessing?
Hmmmm…. How about asher yatzar? That’s the blessing you say after going to the bathroom (it’s too tragically long to be said beforehand), which thanks God for making holes and crevices that – were they to malfunction – it would end our existence. Well, my steaming pores are holes. That might work.
How about HaGomel? Ah, one of my favorite blessings of all time, recited after recovering from a life-threatening danger, crossing a great ocean or getting out of jail or ransomed. “Who delivers goodness for the liable, Who delivered me for goodness.” Then others present are supposed to say “May the One who delivered you every goodness, still deliver you for goodness. Selah.” What a powerful moment. One bears witness to a traumatic event and frames the experience with gratitude. The community also bears witness to God’s goodness and calls for more. There is an uncertainty implicit in the community’s response, evinced by “May.” Such goodness may or may not continue. It is our job as a community to tip future scales in the direction of goodness. I pray that soon will the time come when this cursed pandemic finally blows over and we will all come together and everybody say it to everybody else.
There are countless other options, and you can find some on ritualwell.org But, per Heschel, prayer is no substitute for action. We tip the scales even more by getting vaccinated, including the booster when eligible. We tip the scales by continuing to be careful to wear masks in any indoor gathering representing more than one household (As I write this, the COVID case rate in L.A. county is up 18% over the last 2 weeks, and unvaccinated teens are now getting infected more than their youngish adult counterparts). May the One who has so far delivered us for goodness through all this badness, continue to deliver us into delivering goodness to each other and keeping badness from each other. Selah.
The whole world is steaming. Maybe it will get rid of some toxins. Or maybe it will hold onto it by creating a toxic dome. The power is in God’s hands, by way of our hands. Shavua tov.