Rabbi Gershon Albert's Oakland synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation, held its first indoor service in a year, March 14, 2021.
Rabbi Gershon Albert's Oakland synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation, held its first indoor service in a year, March 14, 2021.

Getting vaccinated was a lesson in humility and gratitude

Majesty and humility. These two words have been swirling through my mind.

After consulting with health experts who confirmed my role as a community educator, I received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on March 10. The experience was breathtaking. Standing in an incredibly-well organized series of lines, having my appointment registered through a QR code, and watching the dozens of volunteers and healthcare workers vaccinate hundreds of humans within the span of one hour that I was there; it was the first time in my life that I felt as though I was taking part in a generation-defining moment of human progress.

Rav Soloveitchik in his “Lonely Man of Faith” famously described that the first responsibility God gave humanity (Adam 1) was to conquer the world with scientific progress and innovation. I saw that before my eyes at the Moscone Center.

The scene outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco when Rabbi Gershon Albert went to get his Covid-19 vaccination. (Photo/Rabbi Gershon Albert)
The scene outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco when Rabbi Gershon Albert went to get his Covid-19 vaccination. (Photo/Rabbi Gershon Albert)

The Rav’s second term in the dialectic of humanity (Adam 2) is about the humility to stand in awe. The deeply emotional moment of receiving my first dose of vaccine brought back the immense feeling of humility.

Almost everything about this last year has been unbelievable in the literal sense of the term. As I was standing in line, I realized that I had not seen remotely that number of people at one time or place since Purim 2020. Back then, the thought of even a short lockdown was beyond grasp. How little do we know about the future? How little do we know about ourselves before we are tested in ways we could not have imagined?

These same feelings came to mind the following Sunday morning, when we opened doors and windows, plugged in industrial-sized fans, and held our first indoor service back in the Beth Jacob sanctuary in over one year. Our sanctuary that during the High Holy Days can hold close to 400 individuals was “filled” by fewer than 20 women and men. How majestic. And how humbling.

While I was sitting for the mandatory 15-minute waiting period after my vaccine, filled with gratitude and hope, I recited the blessing: “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam, HaTov VeHameitiv.” “Blessed are You, God, Master of the Universe, Who is Good and bestows good.”

God’s ways are beyond my comprehension. The line between exile and redemption is razor thin. And yet, I feel how our community is slowly inching back towards hope, towards renewal, towards life.

Our first service inside Beth Jacob in over a year was to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month of redemption. The Talmud states: “In Nissan we were once redeemed. And in Nissan we will again be redeemed in the future.” (Rosh Hashanah 10b)

With a sense of awe for the majesty of scientific achievements, and humility for how little we know of God’s ways in this world, may that redemption come soon in our days.

Rabbi Gershon Albert
Rabbi Gershon Albert

Rabbi Gershon Albert is the spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland.