March 19, 2020
From the Rabbi
Vayakhel Pekudei – Let Us Be Strong and Strengthen Each Other
This week, the Book of Exodus closes with a cloud settling as a cloak of God’s presence upon the wilderness Tabernacle. When the cloud lifted, the People took up camp and continued on their journey, and they “journey[ed] onward in all their journeyings.” But if the cloud did not lift they would not journey on “until the day it went up.” Now, a cloud has settled upon our journeying, upon our onward movement in the lives we have mapped out, and we pray that this cloud, too, contains Godly presence.
Over the last few days, as Ross and I have kept to our home, we’ve experienced real isolation, held back from travel we would have undertaken to visit Ross’s sister at her deathbed and to accompany her to her final resting place. The virtual funeral was a new phenomenon, amplifying the deprivation in not being able to kiss a loved one goodbye or to do them the honor of filling their grave. But, honestly, I could not have anticipated the God-presence we would experience “surrounded” by loved ones at the virtual shiva miynaim we have been hosting these past few days. Ruach HaKodesh – the Breath of Holiness palpably entered our hearts with the Amens of fifty voices in the Zoom room each evening and with the gentle smiles of fifty faces, more soul-presence than would physically fit into our living space.
A silver lining to the cloud? I don’t know if I’d go that far; this is a pandemic and we’re right to be worried. And yet, I watch you, my community, teach me resilience – many of you learning this technology in short order so as to be able to gather and pray together and do what we do as spiritual friends to support one another in times of need. What I saw in the Zoom room was not only kindness directed toward Ross but also the sweetness of interaction between participants, helping one another – getting everyone’s cameras on, microphones off – it was a bit of a barn raising – communally setting up our makeshift camp and our makeshift prayer-space.
Agility is what has allowed Judaism to prevail even through the trials of our calamities and our nomadic wandering of this globe. And flexibility is what has allowed Jewish law, called Halacha – The Journeying Path – to prevail, because our way has always been to adapt to the “now,” finding avenues for renewal and the means to express our understanding of God’s expectations in contemporary terms, terms that speak to us in our real, lived, lives. It’s time to refresh our spiritual and ritual and liturgical tool boxes, my friends, so that we can be agile in adapting to the challenges of this present moment. And I know that we can do this – together – as a kehilah kedosha – a holy community, dedicated to making this world, in every moment, all that it can be, dedicated to finding the god-presence in every cloud, and dedicated to always seeking the god-presence in one another. As we sing out each time we complete a book of the Torah: “Chazak V’Nitchazek” – “Let us be strong, and strengthen each other.”