Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 31

Values for Back to School and Back to Life?

September 1, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this letter finds you doing well and in good health.

We are excitedly looking forward to sharing the High Holidays with our wonderful community. As you are aware based on our mailings, we are live-streaming our services and as part of this, we are planning to have a small, in-person minyan in the sanctuary in order to be able to chant from the Torah. We are doing this in accordance with the recommendations of the Law and Standards Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly of America. I can assure you that we will take special precautions to ensure the safety of those who will attend our “skeleton crew” minyan.

The small minyan on the High Holy Days will be our first time back in the sanctuary after many months away. This “limited” return will be like what many of us in the broader community are experiencing with the slow re-engagement with the public world, whether it be for shopping, entertainment or attending our local gym (personally, I will not be at the gym and cannot even blame the pandemic!). I will even be back teaching at school for classes beginning immediately.

As we are experiencing this transition, I have found myself reflecting upon some wisdom from the Torah portion of Shoftim, which was our Parasha a couple of weeks ago.

There is a wonderful passage in the section that speaks about the laws of going to war. Remember that this was the conquest of Canaan and therefore especially important to the Jewish people. The portion offers four exceptions to those who are obligated to participate.

The Parasha explains that those who are engaged, but not yet married, are exempt; those who have planted a vineyard and not yet reaped from the fruit of the vine are exempt; those who have built a new home and have not yet dedicated it are exempt; and finally, those who are nervous about the interactions of war are exempt.

The portion teaches that there are foundational personal issues that may preclude participation in the national endeavor. The tradition is clear that we are commanded to respect personal journeys, personal, as circumstances, as well as the physical and emotional needs of each of our family members and neighbors.

Folks, as we re-engage with the public at large, I acknowledge that we are all balancing transitional elements in our lives right now. So, here is a spiritual guide to consider as we, God willing, begin the process of re-integration:

  1. כבוד : Honor: Know that your choices are your choices and should be respected by those who love you and know you.
  2. אחריות : Know that you are still responsible for the health of others. As we re-engage, please continue to follow the rules of mask-wearing and social-distancing.
  3. חסד : Know that kindness is more valued than ever. As we re-integrate, things will not be perfect. Patience and kindness will go a long way in terms of making the world a better place.
  4. חברים : Know that we are here as a community to support each other. Our friendships are longstanding, and our partnership is genuine. We are here for each other always.
  5. גשמיות : Know that best plans usually require some flexibility. Be meticulously prepared, yet know that we will all need to be flexible.

So, as I run into my next class, I will honor my students, feel responsible for them and my colleagues, extend loving-kindness to all, try to be a solid friend, and be as flexible as possible.

Please reach out and let me know how it goes for you!

With love and blessings,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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