Shalom u’vracha. The news is dizzying. Our reality is in constant flux. The list of closures and cancellations is staggering. It would be easy to fall prey to the yetzer, our impulse to panic and fear. And yet, we do not. Instead, as we mark this Shabbat, let us take a deep breath and welcome the extra soul that Shabbat gives us so freely.
Please look at the announcements sent out in a separate email this morning for very important information about our shul and ourselves. Below is some information regarding our spiritual selves and some wisdom from the treasure troves of our People’s history to help us navigate this period of uncertainty.
Pikuach Nefesh and Shmirat HaGuf: “Saving a Life and Guarding your Body” Our sacred texts teach us that we can forgo nearly any commandment for the sake of human life. In the context of this pandemic, please know we are making dynamic decisions in order to protect our BSS family. I ask that you please do the same and do not endanger anyone else with your behavior.
Al Tifrosh men ha’Tsibur:”Do not Separate Yourself from the Community.” At first glance, this seems difficult given the need for safe distance now. However, as Rabbi Melinda Panken teaches, we should not practice “social distancing.” Instead, we should practice “physical distancing.” What we need NOW is to be physically separate but socially closer. Indeed, our rabbi-congregational remote arrangement that we have implemented for several years fits this model quite well.
Timche et Zecher Amalek: “Blot out Amalek” In our tradition, Amalek stands as the embodiment of all evil, and especially evil targeting the most vulnerable. As this virus falls in that category, we can blot it out by doing the opposite work of goodness and kindness, and protecting those in need.
Shmirat HaLashon: “Guarding the Tongue” This Jewish value demands that we use words responsibly to elevate, and not destroy. In the context of this pandemic, avoid speculation and unsubstantiated facts so as to not create an environment of hysteria.
V’Hayita Ach Sameach: “And you Shall Be Joyful” Even as we dedicate the utmost gravity and precautions to this situation, let us not overlook the blessings that still abound. (increased time with family or friends, the beauty around us, books, mindfulness, etc)
Nechama: “Comfort.” As the organization with this same name descended on Baton Rouge during the 2016 flood, so too shall we provide comfort and hope to others. In so doing, we become unified. As Natan Sharansky teaches: The power of Jewish unity comes when we feel together with one another, even if we are alone. Never forget that we, the Jewish People, are defined by hope.
Tefila, Teshuva, Tsedaka: “Prayer, Return, Charity/Justice” These three T’s do not only apply to the High Holy Days. In their essence, they apply especially now. Tefilah: Pray for everyone’s health and healing. Speak to God in any way you like. God hears our prayers. Teshuva: Be the best version of yourself. Work on your middot, your soul attributes of gratitude, generosity, and patience. Tsedaka: Give to others. Focus on their well-being. Resist the temptation to close off to the outside world.
In this week’s torah portion, our ancestors succumbed to fear and uncertainty. As they grew unsure as to Moses’ whereabouts, they looked for any possible escape, a false God to whom they could attach themselves. They panicked and behaved irresponsibly, and they provide us a lesson now many years later: to harness the power of uncertainty and control the things that we can control: ourselves, our reactions, and our words.
This will be a disruptive and stressful time for all of us, but we will get through it together as a family. Instead of spreading sickness, we will spread love. Instead of panic, we will remain calm and let the wisdom of our tradition continue to guide us. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any reason. I am here for you all.
I leave you with the words of Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, a prayer: May God who brought a rainbow after the flood with Noah, and who provided a ram to save Isaac on Mount Moriah, and who enabled Esau and Jacob to hug instead of fight, the God who appeared to Moses in a bush and to the Israelite people on Mount Sinai, use miraculous powers and abilities to provide a cloud of glory and safety over all of your creations. Help us navigate through this time of unsteadiness. Be our healer, our rock, our compass and our light. As we stretch our arms and open our hearts, help us feel your presence and grab a hold of our spirit. Bring healing to the afflicted, wisdom to the caretakers and leaders and hope to the worried. May we grow as a people and a community from this painful moment in our story.