Has the Pandemic diminished Religious Feeling?

Over these 10 months of the Pandemic, when Shuls closed for a few months, then slowly reopened; with some minyanim in outdoor parking lots, and some in neighbors’ backyards; always with social distancing and masks; often without the uniting presence and leadership of a rabbi and a sermon; and no kiddush where we could socialize; we Jews, have become disjointed and somewhat disconnected from each other and the community.  We don’t learn Torah in groups, or go to large weddings or Brisses or any Simchah occasions. We don’t even invite each other for Shabbos meals. Many of us, have not gone to Minyan as often, and hopefully are davening at home, with no loss of Kavanah, or deep appreciation of the prayers; we wonder. Prayer with a minyan in a Shul can be powerfully inspiring.

But truth be told, apparently it seems, many of us have lost some of our spiritually religious feelings, our kavanah, our bondedness with God, with our community, and the remembrance of our raison d’etre, our purpose for existence as religious Jews.

It is so important for each of us to know who we are, why we are Jews, what is our purpose, what it means, and why we are here. 

One day a gentile asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lubavitch, “Why did God ask Adam, “Where are you?” Did God not know where Adam was?” Rabbi Shneur Zalman answered, The Torah is not merely a history book, but rather a teaching for all men at all times.  “In every era,” Rabbi Shneyur Zalman said, “God calls out to man,’Where are you? What are you doing with your life?  What have you accomplished?” Every day God calls out to man, “Where are you?”

Many of these questions are answered when we reflect on the ideas expressed in our prayers. In prayer, other than in the Amidah, the Shmoneh Esreh, we do not ask God for anything. In Prayer we meditate to ourselves and become aware and thankful for the great miracles of our lives, of our health, of God’s hidden guidance in our lives, of His love, of His Torah with its inspiring and righteous teachings, of what’s truly important, spiritual ideals and values like peace, gratitude, love, family and human relations.  

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Young Israel of Boca Raton, recently wrote,  ”Despite shuls having re-opened in safe and cautious ways, only a fraction of those “eligible,” those not considered “high risk,” have come back. There are likely many factors contributing to decreased participation since re-opening. but it occurs to me that one of the fundamental reasons is that davening at shul has been reduced to, well, just davening at shul. Let me explain that. There are many reasons people came to shul, all legitimate and meaningful, even if not equally so. Some, of course, come to connect and open their hearts to Hashem, others to socialize, others to be part of community, yet others to enjoy kiddush.  With significant distancing, mask requirements and no food, the only reason to come to shul right now, is to daven.  The beautiful byproduct, of course, is essentially no talking during davening whatsoever.  The awful unintended consequence is missing so many of our beloved members“ 

“While I am sure that the people who are not returning to shul are davening either at home or elsewhere, I believe the absence of a desire to come back to a shul that lacks anything other than davening is a sign that some people are struggling with connecting to davening itself.”

One day, Rav Shapiro, the Chofetz Chaim, heard that one of his congregants had stopped coming to Shul. That night, the rabbi knocked on his door.  Surprised, by the rabbi’s unexpected visit, the Jew invited him in. Without a word, the rabbi walked over to the fireplace and removed one of the burning coals. After they watched the red hot coal, slowly cool and burn out. The rabbi said “I’ve heard you stopped coming to services”, and he walked out. The next day the man returned to daily services. 

 We are meant to be transformed from davening, enriched, invigorated and elevated. 

For many people, davening is the only time of day not connected or attached to technology, anything or anyone else.  It is our alone time, lost in our thoughts, in the words that are designed to calibrate our priorities and to stimulate us to think about what matters most and evaluate who we are and how we are doing.

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk was a young man when he first met his teacher, Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha. “Young man”, said Rabbi Bunim, “where can God be found?” 

“Why, God is everywhere!”, Rabbi Mendel answered. “The fullness of the universe is Hs glory”.  “Listen to me, young man”, Rabbi Punim said, “God can be found where He is invited, only where He is invited.”

“It is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and those who uphold it are happy.” (Proverbs) Let’s continue to hold on tight and not let go, until that day that the pandemic ends and we return to our shuls and to so many life-enriching community events.

About the Author
Martin Polack is a business analyst who spends his spare time involved with adult Jewish education.
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