Rabbinic Reflections March 17, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

We at CBIOTP want to take this opportunity to wish you well under these trying circumstances. Please note that in deference to the situation, we are consistently monitoring all protocols to keep our community safe and healthy.

With that said, let’s use our time to share some words of Torah! Language is fluid and changes over time and locale. Only a couple of weeks ago, the term “social distancing” was unknown to most of us. Today, I want to explore from where the concept originates (you know I am going to tell you the Jews invented it, right?) and what the opposite and more important term (you know I am going to tell you it comes from the Torah, right?) actually means.

So, in fact, it is true that social distancing originates in the recesses of Jewish history. In ancient times, specifically during the forty-year trek through the desert, there were specific occasions when people were asked to set up their quarters outside the regular encampment and to remain there for a period of either a day or a week. These occasions had to do, primarily with encountering a force that was perceived to be “against the natural order.” Anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger, suggests that these periods of separation often centered around contact with forces that represented the opposite of life- giving forces. For a male this may have had to do with contact with a corpse and for a female this often had to do with menses which was simply seen as the loss of an opportunity to give life. So, there you have it, the Bible invented social distancing!

More importantly for us, the Torah portion in the weeks ahead describes the exact opposite of social distancing which is……spiritual approaching.

After the Mishkan/Tabernacle is constructed we are told in Exodus 50:34-38 that, “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Nachum Sarna, a famous biblical scholar says that, “the function of the Tabernacle was to create a portable Sinai, a means by which a continued avenue of communication with God could be maintained.”

For us, the lesson is clear. This may be a time of social distancing but, it is also an opportunity for spiritual approaching! Here are three suggestions for us as a community to work on our skills of “spiritual approaching.” 1) Reach out to a friend or neighbor by picking up the phone or sending an email. Isolation can be overwhelming and your voice at the other end of the phone will represent the divine commandment of “Love you neighbor as Yourself.”

2) Read a Jewish book or watch a Jewish movie. The internet is filled (obviously!) with articles covering thousands, if not millions, of Jewish topics. This way, we fulfill the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah/studying Torah. Our tradition teaches that when we study, as described above, God’s presence, the Shechina, literally joins us no matter where we are.

3) Pray or mediate. Give yourself a chance to reach out to God through either the words of our liturgy or your own personal prayer. Initiating a meaningful encounter can be uplifting and fulfilling. We are working on posting virtual services/prayer opportunities, as well.

Finally, know that we are here with you and I am available should you have any needs. Feel free to be in touch and most importantly, remain safe and healthy. May God continue to allow his countenance to shine upon us and offer us his greatest gift, the gift of Shalom, in a world of Peace.

B’Shalom, Rabbi Eric L. Wasser