• My Humble-brag and Vision for the New Normal

Rabbi Shmuel Marcus | Rabbinic Contributor


I pulled up to the one-story California style home feeling important and needed. Susan had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and wanted a Rabbi to visit and pray. What happened next made me feel very much like I do today.


She was in her early sixties with a full career ahead her. Ironically, she found out that her baby girl, Karyn, in Arizona was pregnant the same day she found out she was unlikely to ever meet her grandson. Susan looked me in the eyes and asked me why she was dying?


A few months earlier I had proudly stood to receive my diploma of rabbinical ordination from the Machon Lsmicha of Australia. The certificate was still in its white tube in my garage near pictures of a scuba diving trip in Eilat, Israel, while I was looking into a dying woman’s eyes.


She definitely wasn’t asking me to explain what cancerous cells do to your body, she wanted to know the big why! Why is there suffering? Why would G-d bless her with a great life and news of a grandchild only to shut it all down? Why should Karyn and husband simply go on?


I had no idea. I call it my moment of unavoidable humility. When you spend years reading books and listening to philosophical lectures, you convince yourself that you know why. You feel educated, important, and needed. Then, one day, you learn the biggest lesson about life and yourself. You hit the wall of unavoidable humility and learn about the vastness of this world and your place within it.


I had mistakenly thought that my job was to answer the Susans of the world with information I had amassed while studying in yeshiva as a kid. But that’s not my job.


I looked her in the eyes and told her the truth. I had no idea why she was dying. I had no real answers to life’s big questions. But I was there at her side. I had left my wife and kids in middle of a pasta dinner to run out and be at her side. That’s my job. That’s our job. 


The Covid-19 pandemic is our collective moment of unavoidable humility.


No one on this planet has the answers. All our schooling, education, self important titles, has left us all speechless and on equal footing. We all feel that unavailable humility of our limitations. But, we shopped for people, handed out masks, checked in with old friends. We were at each other’s side. That is our job.


So, here’s the good news about humility and what could be the new normal. It’s empowering. Humility is not worthlessness, it’s knowing that you’re limited but G-d isn’t. When David faced the mighty Goliath, he said, “I’m smaller, but the G-d of Israel is stronger,” David just showed up with a sling shot and 5 smooth pebbles.


Today, doctors should definitely say a prayer and ask G-d to heal people through them.


The great power of Divine comfort can be channeled through each of us, it doesn’t matter what you know or how you feel. Your job is to show up.


Years ago, I had said very little to Susan, but Karyn from Arizona told me:


“Rabbi, my mom said you were terrific, thanks.”


I remember saying “You’re welcome, I’m happy I was able to show up.”


So what’s next for us all and what’s the new normal going to be? I have no idea. Yet, I feel empowered by our unavoidable humility. We can do great things as a community, if we just show up.



Rabbi Marcus and his wife, Bluma, run the Chabad House in Rossmoor.