You, and everyone who you love, has changed their social patterns for fear of catching and spreading the Corona virus.
You are watching the world around us adjust in traumatic ways ranging from the stock market to politics.
Even though you know that it is temporary, you can’t hug your parents or grandkids.
These times are tough.
As a Jew, when things get tough, I turn to Torah. And this week, from across the chasm of generations comes both advice and a message.
It is profound.
First, a little background. After leaving Egypt, God gives our Israelite ancestors the task of building a Mishkan (traveling tabernacle) in order to help us overcome our individual slave tendencies so that we can re-create ourselves as a (holy) community. God promises us that if we can all participate, and do the hard work, then our reward will be that God’s “presence will come down to dwell among” us. (Exodus 25:8)
At the end of Exodus (last week’s Torah portion), the Mishkan is completed! This is a big deal, for now we have a community that focuses around a particular space, and through our interactions with one another, we can experience God’s presence in our lives.
But for various reasons, Moses feels that he can not enter the Mishkan, even though he was both a participant and a leader in the project of creating our holy community. (Ex 40:34).
And so we get to this week’s Torah portion, titled, Vayikra, which means ‘and He called’. It begins (Leviticus 1:1) in a way similar to other conversations between God and Moses, with one major difference.
The word ‘Vayikra’ (“and He called”) is very rare. Usually, conversations between God and Moses use the word V’yomar (“and He said”) or V’yidabar (“and he spoke”). So, what is special about Vayikra (“and He called”)?
Our sages suggest two things that profoundly affect how we might react in today’s Corona world. The first is that Vayikra (“and He called”) is audible to Moses, meaning that Moses actually heard the words in his ears. This is in contrast to the usual methods of communication, where Moses ‘hears’ God’s words in his head and in his heart, but not with his ears.
The second difference is that only with the word Vayikra (“and He called”) are emotions conveyed by God. Here, God speaks audibly to Moses, say our Rabbis, with a loving, supportive, nurturing tone. With those emotions, God audibly invites Moses inside the Mishkan, that Holy community that he helped to build. There, he could best commune with The Divine, and experience the sacredness of being part of an established religious community. In this way God was able to help Moses overcome his hesitations.
Over this past week, the vast majority of our congregants have either made calls to other congregants, or received calls from our congregants, or both. If you have not yet, rest assured, you will. The purpose of these calls is two-fold. First, we want to make sure that every single one of our congregants is safe and has what s/he needs.
Second, we want to help facilitate conversation. Like sunshine out of the clouds, this conversation is just as important for the caller as it is for the recipient. My hope is, that when you receive these calls (from our GenXers, from our TE Clergy/Staff, from our Board of Trustees) that you do not quickly get off the phone. Please. Talk. Together we can push back against isolation and feelings of despair. Together, we can form relationships that may help the person on the other end of the phone line as much as it can help you. Friendships have been formed with far less…
We also would ask every one of our Temple Emanu-El congregants to pick up the phone and call at least one person per day. If you want to talk about Corona and your life, fine. But don’t be shy about talking about other things as well.
This is what it means to be part of a sacred community.
This is what it means to have created a Mishkan here in Atlanta.
This is what it means to Vayikra, to call to another in an audible way, full of love and support, inviting them to engage in the sacred place that they each have helped to build.
These times are tough, but we will get through them.
And on the way God’s presence will continue to dwell amongst us.