Hello hello hello! Happy June & July! As the Grateful Dead sing: “Summer’s here,and the time is right for dancing in the street!” OK, I have to back up a minute —the falling covid mortality numbers and the rising vaccination rates (Hallelujah!) are certainly a cause for celebration. It’s also true that there’s so much about the last 14 months for each of us to process.
1. Jacob awoke after the ladder dream —yes, the magical scene captured on the curtains of the ark in our sanctuary; the word Israel – ישראל, the God-wrestler,emblazoned at the bottom. The angels ascend and descend the ladder, whose head reached the heavens. In the dream,God reassured Jacob in the dark night of his loneliness: I’ll watch over you. Jacob said: God is in this place, and I didn’t know it! For fifteen months, except for my amazing zoom crew, an empty shul, week in, week out. No, that’s not really correct. All of the 0’s and 1’s streaming from your phones, laptops, desktops, and tablets —bouncing off the satellites and descending the ladder — and we sang, read, listened,took in the Torah parading from the ark, lit candles, welcomed dogs, cats, lizards and chicks — from Massachusetts to Tennessee to Georgia to Florida to Arizona to Mexico to Canada — one kehilla held together; no less real than any other minyan in any other shul — who knew? God was in this place, and I didn’t realize it! This past fifteen months wasn’t a blip or an interruption. It is a paradigm shift, and the moment into which we’re emerging (each at our own fumbling pace) is not the before-all-this reality of 2019. We are changed, as is our world.
2. What are the spiritual responses? Let’s open the box…
First, there’s gratitude, an occasion for a chorus of shehechiyanu שהחיינו. My teacher, Danny Siegel, reminds me that a gift which can be purposed or directed to benefit others should call forth these words: Praised are You, God, who is Good and who causes good. So, let’s add that — Baruch HaTovv’Hameitiv ברוך הטוב והמטיב.
Next, there’s acknowledging a painful reality of loss – over six hundred thousand Americans, millions, worldwide. In our kehilla, we also note the names that have come and gone on the mi shebeirach lists that you’ve seen onscreen. Some people have returned to health, some have passed away. Among our regulars, Morris Cohen, Hillel Kaplan, Bess Cotton, Roz Adelstone. Rituals of mourning continue to be profoundly disrupted by Covid. Shivaminyans, hevre kaddisha — we had to find a Plan B. And nonetheless, there’s the traditional blessing that binds us— Baruch Dayan HaEmet, Praised is the True Judge. Our grief and sadness are also essential steps toward our solace and healing.
3. The last item I’ll name is Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Well, these words are part of our daily mission statement,placed right before the daily morning blessings: I hereby accept the obligation to fulfill my Creator’s mitzvah: Love your neighbor as yourself. A vital touchstone to keep in our pocket. Throughout this pandemic, how have we translated this challenge into sacred daily living? For starters: the way we started to pay attention to hand-washing, to masks, to physical distance, to vaccination — all these point to our thinking about the power of our actions to affect the well-being of people around us. Back in Genesis, Cain defiantly asked God: Am Imy brother’s keeper, as in — Why should I care? And that question must be answered by each of us. Why should we care, and if we must care about other people, how might we express it? Some suggested supplies (we mustn’t run out)include respect, inclusiveness,compassion, generosity, and a warm welcome. Everyone who came through this journey is personally working through what it means to re-engage socially. We need an extra cup of kindness on hand for fellow travelers who are in need. If you really want it boiled down to one handy word, it’s V’ahavta ואהבת, you shall love.Omitting none. If we’re continually restocking these spiritual basics, we’ll flourish. And as the Grateful Dead also wrote: All I want to know is — Are you Kind? Amen. Amen.