It’s been close to three months now since we started isolating, but this week restrictions eased up somewhat, and I was able to give out cheesecakes to our community in honor of Shavuot. We invited people to come and pick up the cheesecakes from the Chabad center, with masks and social distancing, and I noticed something unexpected.
It was such a pleasure to see everyone in person, even those I’ve been in regular contact with via video chat, phone, and WhatsApp.
I always made good use of social media, but since the quarantine started I’ve ramped it up tenfold, if not more! I give classes, have meetings, talk one-on-one to community members, stay in touch with family and friends and so much more. So the people who came to our Chabad center this week, I’ve seen—and recently! I talk to Jack on Zoom and I speak to Sarah via WhatsApp. Justine and I see each other on Facebook Live and I’ve been in touch with Natalie via phone. But when I saw the four of them, it was different. We were so excited to see each other in person, it was as if we hadn’t been in touch all this time!
It had me wondering … what’s the big difference?
Zoom is wonderful, and we’re so fortunate to have it (and other platforms like it), but it doesn’t come close to real-life, in-person interaction. There is something compelling about being in another person’s physical presence that social media cannot capture. Even though we weren’t able to touch (no hugs or handshakes!), just seeing each other without the computer screen felt authentic and energizing.
This weekend we celebrate Shavuot, when the our ancestors demanded “retzonenu lirot et malkeinu – we want to see our G-d!” And indeed, G-d revealed Himself and gave us the Torah.
The Jews at Sinai demanded nothing less than G-d Himself. They wanted the real deal. They did not want G-d on Zoom. They refused to hear His words via Moses, His emissary. They demanded direct contact. Why? You simply cannot compare the spiritual experience. This is something the Jews appreciated even 3000 years ago.
So today we turn to G-d and demand the same thing. We want direct contact. We want the virus to end so we can see and hug people in person. But more than that, we demand to see Moshiach, our redeemer, who will bring us to the era when we will finally see G-d and His doings up close and with clarity.
Rabbi Uriel Vigler