As we move into Shabbat together, we are witnessing that more and more synagogues, schools, and places for large gatherings have made the wise decision to close their doors and practice social distancing. It is a new reality which will hopefully slow down the spread of COVID-19 and protect human life. As Jews, this is our highest calling- to protect human life, as the Torah states, “…choose life- to ensure your life and the lives of future generations.” “…uvacharta bachayim lema’an tichyeh atah vezar’echa.” (Deut. 30:19)
While this past week has been fraught with fear and uncertainty, it has also been one of beauty and powerful connection. I have reached out to you to offer words of comfort and support and many of you have in return offered me your words of strength and hope. Additionally, we have been connecting with friends and family around the world as we move through this moment separated, but connected.
I have been thinking about ways to create a framework of being together in spirit despite our physical separation. I am reminded of a poem by the Israeli poet, Yehudah Amichai, z”l called, “shneinu beyachad vechol echad lechud,” “The two of us together and each one alone.” Here is the full poem. The poem describes the human phenomenon of physically being together but sometimes feeling alone. As I read this poem I realized that the opposite experience is occurring now in our community. We are physically apart, but we feel connected.
I have been gaining strength from reading the many messages connected to this same idea, which some of my colleagues have shared with their congregations. Rabbi Sharon Brous has encouraged her members to work on shifting their mindset from “socially distancing to spiritually connecting.” Instead of focusing on the harsh reality of physical separation, perhaps we can make a greater effort to move toward one another spiritually and emotionally.
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky suggested that his congregants think of ways to change their mindset towards one of connection. He urged his readers to consider the following: “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.” In an era when we have the ability to connect virtually we must act in order to stay connected and offer our support.
Yesterday during our morning “minyan” on Zoom our group gathered together for comfort and strength and focused on the language of some of the ancient prayers of the siddur (prayerbook). We reflected that in Ashrei we describe God in many ways beginning each line with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Near the end of the prayer we mention that God is “karov lechol korav, “close to all who call out in prayer.” I asked the group to reflect on why the prayer mentions God’s closeness only near the end of the psalm. Wouldn’t it make more sense to describe God once we recognize God’s closeness to us all? Our congregant and fellow minyan leader, Sally Shore Wittenberg, shared with us that there are many lines in the Ashrei which remind us of the power of words to help make a spiritual connection. Perhaps the prayer is reminding us that words are a powerful tool to help us connect with one another when we can’t be physically close. Perhaps that is our challenge today– to communicate despite the distance and allow our words to bind us in relationship. Sally is inviting anyone who would like to join her for a contemplative/meditative shacharit (morning service) on Tuesday and/or Wednesday at 8:30am. Please email her if you are interested in attending.
Our community has come together virtually this week for a number of events including minyanim, a spirited Bim bam Shabbat service for students in our religious school and the second part of the Midrash Musings class. You can access the source sheets for these classes here. Please connect with us whenever you are able to join.
I am looking forward to connecting with you again soon and seeing many of you on Zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat tonight at 6:30 pm.
Blessings for healing and a Shabbat Shalom of spiritual closeness.