In his book, Who Moved my Cheese, Spencer Johnson, MD, describes four different ways to deal with an unexpected change in life. He introduces four small fictional characters — two mice and two little people, who know where to get their cheese. One day, the cheese is moved. The four characters, like the four children in the Haggadah, are asking “Ma Nishtana?” What has changed? Now they have to find a new way in the maze of life. According to Dr. Johnson, the four characters are parts of all of us. Sometime we may act like Sniff, who sniffs out change early, or Scurry, who scurries into action. Hem denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse, and Haw, who learns to adapt in time when he sees that change may lead to something better.
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the Hero’s Journey. Essentially, he teaches, there is one story in all religions, mythology, and super heroes: separation, initiation, and return. Protagonists live their lives in a wasteland — a reality they don’t fit in — and they hear a call to leave. They may be reluctant at first, but eventually they are thrust into the new reality, either by choice or by force. The earlier they adhere to the call, the easier the shift becomes. What holds them back is fear of the unknown. Once they go through the separation, they find themselves in a foreign place. Now they encounter the fear of a new beginning.
Once they cross the threshold, they discover helpers as well as challengers that will accompany them through many trials until the moment of initiation. They will no longer resist the new phase, but will be comfortable with it, master it, and even enjoy it — what Campbell calls apotheosis, climax; what Judaism calls riding the donkey. What’s left now is for the characters to return. Like the prophet Jonah, they will pass through the belly of the whale in order to be born anew and come back with new knowledge, a new message, or an answer — Teshuvah (repentance).
Some people never complete this circle, and some will do it multiple times. They will learn how to be born again and again, following Abraham our patriarch.
It seems as though all of us are now caught somewhere in-between Spencer’s cheese and Campbell’s Hero. Within the confusion, a new reality is upon us. Someone has moved the global cheese. Now it’s up to us to be the heroes for ourselves and for others, initiating a new reality. We are learning to be home, to care for each other. “And He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken.” (Micha 4:3-4)
I would like to thank and applaud the many heroes in our congregation: Dr. Alice Nadel, Dr. Lewis Teperman, and Dr. Elana Sidney, who work directly with coronavirus patients, and also our members who daily offer their love and concern to congregants and community friends isolated at home. May God bless you and guard you, May God shine His face upon you and be gracious to you. May God lift up his face to you and give you peace!
—Rabbi Gadi Capela