ערב ש׳׳ק וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל
Dear Anshe Sholom,
It has been just one week since we were forced to close down our shul’s building for tefilah and shiurim and I write to you today with an acute sense of how much I miss seeing you and your children in shul. I also feel tremendous pride as I consider the many members of the shul who have stepped forward to support one another with acts of connection and kindness.
It is humbling to contemplate that nearly the entire Jewish world has imposed similar safety precautions this Shabbat (and indeed all humanity is united in unprecedented ways by this common viral enemy). Had it been safe for us to gather, we would have the merit of hearing a double Torah portion (Vayakhel and Pekudei) and would triumphantly conclude Sefer Shmot by crying out “Hazak, Hazak, V’Nithazek” (be strong, be strong, an we will derive strength from you).
Ramban explains that the end of Sefer Shmot, as the sanctuary is completed and God’s presence rests upon the Israelite encampment, represents a moment of redemption which justifies the rabbinic name for Sefer Shmot: “Sefer HaGe’ulah” or the “Book of Redemption.” Even though we still faced a long and difficult path before God would bring us to the Promised Land, living in the wilderness surrounding God’s sanctuary was a substantial form of redemption.
The Mishkan and the redemption it facilitated was the product of two types of people, those whom the Torah describes as being “hakham lev”, skilled craftsmen, and those whom the Torah describes as “nediv lev”, the generous donors of materials. Both were necessary. Both were indispensable.
There are physicians and nurses, scientists and government officials, who represent the characteristics of the hakham lev. Their highly specialized knowledge is being deployed on the front lines to protect our community. And they are supported by a vast cadre of people who can be described as akin to the nediv lev. These people contribute good wishes and generosity, and support those on the front lines.
And the goodwill and generosity of our community needs to be deployed, every bit as much as the knowledge and skills of physicians, nurses, and public health officials. Please take a moment before Shabbat to call the friends whom you won’t be able to sit near to in shul this week. Arrange in advance with a friend to meet outside for a Shabbat afternoon walk (while maintaining a six foot distance between you). Consider joining one of the Chesed Committee’s
newly formed teams
and direct your passion and generosity towards caring for our community.
And, above all, act towards yourself and the members of your own household in the spirit of both the hakham lev and the nediv lev. I implore you to obey medical guidance and remain at home with the members of your own household as much as is possible. There have been too many local cases of COVID-19, including among members of the Jewish community, for anyone to be complacent or casual about following the wisdom of medical science. And, treat yourself and your family with extra doses of generosity of spirit. Our nerves are frayed. We are anxious. Many of us are sharing close quarters with others who are under similar stresses. Being forgiving and patient is more crucial than ever.
Rashi’s first comment on this week’s Torah portion notes that Moshe gathered the entire congregation together, not with his hands, but with his words. I will take that image with me into Shabbat. We are a community that cannot gather together in any physical space. But we can share words that bring us together and we can recite common blessings and prayers over Shabbat that unite us to one another, and to our Jewish brothers and sisters across the world.
Please reach out to myself or to Rabbanit Sarna if we can be helpful in any pragmatic way or otherwise. I look forward to seeing you soon, on the numerous ongoing Zoom calls, when passing one another (at a safe distance) on the streets of Lakeview, and ultimately and most of all, when our shul opens again.
Rabbi David Wolkenfeld