In the book of Exodus, God sets up a classic question for the Israelites shortly before they leave Mitzrayim, the place of their confinement: “And when your child asks you tomorrow, mazot — what does all this mean?” As that question made its way across many centuries from the Torah into the seder, it became a great vehicle for pondering the rituals of freedom and the many-layered story of Israel’s redemption.
As we’re coming up on a month after Passover, my focus on this question — mazot, what does all this mean? — has a very different context. Mitzrayim —not the literal Egypt, but the confinement, the tight spot, our struggle to make meaning of our whole world facing layers upon layers of uncertainty and anxiety — this is our new not-at-all-normal, the present moment that makes us question what it all means.
We’re part of a shul family, but we won’t be physically congregating in shul for a while. Preserving everyone’s health demands this most difficult posture. No, ZOOM can’t quite replicate the warmth, the hugs, the handshakes.
But to my pleasant surprise, I see and feel people connecting to each other, supporting each other. All over our city, our state, our nation, our world — with all the screen freezes… families check in, people serenade each other, sit in meditation, play games, and study. People figure out how to help each other out in so many uplifting ways.
This challenging time is also a time of profound opportunity for us to ask ourselves about what is a core value versus an afterthought, something disposable. What is a kehilla without the bricks and mortar of the building?
Sure, the stained glass windows, the chairs, desks, tables, the prayer books, the Torahs — they are all quite significant, but really, they are shorthand for so many stories, from one generation to another; Hebrew school , prayer, weddings, b’nei mitzvah, watching youngsters grow into maturity. The shul = the people and all the relationships. Beyond the structure at the corner of Plum and First, it is about all of us. And, together, we will write the coming chapter of what a kehilla is all about — even as we shelter in the storm.