We are living in dark days. We wish refuah sheleima to all who are sick with the virus, and much strength to all who find themselves in short or long-term isolation.
Earlier this week, Julia Roberts is reported to have compared isolation to Shabbat. It could be a negative experience or it could be transformed into a sacred experience. She wasn’t the only one to give Shabbat a boost in recent days. A video has surfaced of the Pope endorsing our day of rest. Is isolation indeed just like one long Shabbat?
At the beginning of this week’s double parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moshe gathers the Israelites together to declare the importance of the mitzvah of keeping Shabbat. But we already know about Shabbat, why mention it again at this juncture?
The commentary of the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Chumash begins:
“In this Sidrah, Moses addresses the entire nation and charges them with the privilege of building the Tabernacle . . . Much of the text is a virtual repetition of the directives of Terumah, Tetzaveh and part of Ki Tisa (previous weeks’ readings).”
With our synagogues shuttered, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain passion and enthusiasm for Jewish life for ourselves and our families. During these trying times, each of us has a challenge to build a Tabernacle for God in our own homes. While that may be challenging, we are blessed today with a myriad online resources to bring Torah and Yiddishkeit into our homes and transform our homes into Tabernacles. We live in an age when Judaism can be virtual. And yet, while day 1, 2, and 3 may be achievable, by day 4, one begins to feel that this whole Tabernacle-building story has become a little repetitive.
That’s when Shabbat arrives as an oasis in our lives. Isolation might feel like Shabbat. After all, you don’t go to work. But it’s not really Shabbat. Because you’re still virtually connected to the world. Moshe reminds us that there’s so much more to Shabbat. It’s the time we turn off our computers and phones and spend time talking to our family members face-to-face. Instead of social-media soundbites, Shabbat affords us with the opportunity to pick up a real book and gain some real knowledge and traditional wholesomeness.
For those who are isolated without family, we should be thinking about them too. We might not be allowed to enter their homes, but there’s no reason why we can’t stop by and stand a few feet away from the front door to wish them Shabbat Shalom and see how they’re doing. Shabbat isn’t a weekly day of isolation. It’s a day when we pause from our Tabernacle-building to connect with our loved ones, ourselves, and Heaven.