Parashat Hashavua

Parashat Hashavua for Vayikra

Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
Beit Shalom Synagogue

Love in the time of coronavirus

(Spoiler Alert: This article is not going to discuss this week's Torah portion. It is the first five chapters of Leviticus, if you'd like to have a read-through yourself.)

It doesn't take much of a leap to imagine that we are all currently dwelling in Mitzrayim, the narrow place of enslavement. One of the main characteristics of being a slave is that one loses all control over one's own life. We are all certainly feeling that right now. We are accustomed to controlling where we go and when, how our days run, who we see. We can't do any of that right now, and it is deeply disorienting and disturbing. So much so, that we may lose sight of the one thing that we can control: how we respond to the situation.

I have been overwhelmed in recent days, but a lot of what has overwhelmed me has been the outpouring of love and caring that I have experienced. I have been overwhelmed when I've contacted members of my community to see how our synagogue might look after them, and in many cases they have asked how they can volunteer to help others. I have been overwhelmed by hearing of friends who are actively seeking ways they can make sure that vulnerable people in their lives are being protected. I have been overwhelmed by finding out how many people are already regularly picking up the phone to let friends and neighbours know they aren't alone. And I have been overwhelmed by the love vulnerable community members are showing for themselves by staying at home and keeping safe. 

Of course, I'm only human. I have moments from time to time when the unknown future terrifies me. A dear friend who is a meditation teacher advised that I work as hard as I can to be in the present moment. And that is what I'm trying to do: here in South Australia, the autumn has come with crisp, clear nights and incredibly blue skies. Worship on Zoom is strange, but there is great comfort in seeing the faces of members of my congregation joining with me to carve out sacred time on Shabbat and for study. As part of our first online gathering this last Shabbat, we took some moments to reflect on what we were thankful for. There was a lot! Our challenge is to be touched by the blessings in our lives as powerfully as we are touched by the uncertainty.

If anything, these days have reminded me of how much our lives are intertwined--as Jews, and as human beings. Lynn Ungar's poem "Pandemic" moved be deeply when I first stumbled across it. I hope it brings you love and hope:

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

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