Coronavirus has us all in a state of panic. Schools are closed. Store shelves are empty. Broadway, Disney, and the Capitol are closed. Workers are told not to come into the office. But to me, the most shocking of all this week was to get emails from the various local synagogues that in an abundance of caution, they are closed for prayer and Torah study.
Unfortunately, as with most of these announcements now, the closings are for an “indefinite” period of time, depending on the course this vicious pandemic takes (will it accelerate or peter out). Therefore, While I understand the rationale to close the synagogues, not to congregate with others and expose ourselves or spread the Coronavirus, I can’t help thinking and believing that what we need now, more than ever, is prayer to Hashem and the mitzvah of Torah study that the synagogue provides to us. Indeed, only in the hands of G-d is the ultimate power of health or illness, and life or death.
Sure, there have been times in my life that I that didn’t want to go to synagogue. I was turned off by the services that seemed rote, some Rabbis who were creepy, congregants that were in closed clicks, and observance that seemed exclusive to those that practiced in perfection. However, as I myself matured personally and religiously, I learned to appreciate the synagogue as a center for prayer, learning, and community with others, and as something that I truly needed in my life to continue to learn and grow spiritually and as a human being. With its “warts and all,” the synagogue, as well as our Jewish schools, are our religious centers and we need them to live our daily lives as Jews as well as to continue to pass the torch from generation to generation.
To me, this Shabbat was not a full Shabbat, because there was no synagogue, no Rabbi’s sermon, no community to talk and share with. I feel robbed of my religion today. I want to be able to go to synagogue and have a real Shabbat. How many other Shabbatot will we have to continue to go through without being able to pray in a minyan, hear the Torah reading, listen to the Rabbi’s speech, and see our community friends?
Yes, this reminds me of the 2,000 years of our painful exile and persecution at the hands of our many enemies who sought to keep us from our Yiddishkeit, when we as Jews were not allowed to practice our faith, pray to our G-d (“Hashem Echad”), or learn Torah at the pain of torture, expulsion, or death. Now, it is not man that is instilling fear on us and persecuting us religiously, but rather it is the Coronavirus–a disease that strikes with sickness and even death itself–with no clinically tested vaccination available for probably at least another year or more.
Many say and I firmly believe that we are on the doorstep of Mashiach and that he is even here among us waiting for the right moment to reveal himself. We’ve survived so much and finally have returned as a people to our homeland of Israel. Now we must survive the final birthing pains of Mashiach and then we will be able to go not only to our synagogues once again, but also to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray and learn at G-d’s very footstep in this earthly world.