Closed. Deserted. Empty.
But, actually, in these times, in these circumstances, the vacancy is a sign of life: vibrant, thriving, active Jewish life.
In light of recent harrowing events that have gripped our homeland in the most distressing of ways, we see many non-essential businesses shutting down their activities — either completely closing up shop for the time being or operating on very limited schedules to accomplish only the most necessary of tasks. A friend mentioned that much of Tel Aviv is shut down. I myself went to check out Kenyon Malcha, a large Yerushalayim mall, and found it abandoned and vacant.
Where is everyone? What are they doing?
Large numbers of reservists — to my knowledge some 360,000 — have been called up to serve. These holy soldiers are putting their lives on the line to protect our homeland and our people. They’re risking their lives to fight the enemy and guard Jews throughout Israel. They’re out doing their duty, away from their desks and offices and regular jobs, and they’re doing it with fierce love for this place and the Jewish people. We see those who are not currently in Israel abandoning their vacations and their business trips to rush home and join this cause and calling.
Many of those who have not been issued a Tzav 8, an official call-to-duty, and are not working in essential businesses and services, are calling ourselves up to help out and lend a hand in whatever way we can. And those ways are manifold, beautiful, and awe-inspiring…
We see people coming together to cook hot meals to deliver to soldiers on the front. We see organizations coordinating volunteers to help out in the homes of those who’ve been called up, either by bringing meals or babysitting children or doing housework. We see yeshiva boys tying tzitzis for army-green garments to be distributed to soldiers. We see people coordinating transportation, minyanim, shiva calls… And then there are many activities taking place on a more spiritual level: hafrashas challah events, tefillah rallies, Tehillim gatherings…
People don’t even have to leave their houses to take action: there is a war being waged on social media, and as we well know, the pro-Palestinian organizations and terrorist groups and anti-Israel circles know how to fight it well. They’re certainly harnessing the power of the Internet and social apps to promote hatred, spread lies, and distort the truth.
We can do our own part, posting pro-Israel content, posting about the war, posting about what has happened here, posting about the good going on, using hashtags to fight the good fight… And if we don’t ever post on our own accounts, we can certainly like, share, and comment to show the platforms — and the world — what really matters…
We can reach out to those we know in Israel, sending words of encouragement, love, friendship, and caring. We can contact those we know whose husbands, sons, and brothers have been called up, telling them we’re thinking of them, praying for them, doing mitzvos in their merit. We can write letters — and even have our children draw pictures — to send to the soldiers. We can connect with others in different parts of the country to check on how they’re doing and what they’re experiencing.
There is no way to put a value on the power of a good word, of the encouragement, and of the morale boost that can come from feeling like other people care about you, appreciate what you’re doing or going through, and are keeping you in mind. That they know you exist, that you’re going through things, and that your experience (and you!) matter.
The Torah, in Parashas Bereishis, which we read this Shabbos, teaches that the world was created through a series of 10 Divine utterances or commands. There’s a concept from the Talmud that each person is an entire world… and from Mishlei we learn that life and death are in the power of the tongue. We, too, can create “worlds” with our words.
Let’s use our words, written and spoken, to uplift, to unite, to promote solidarity, to encourage, to strengthen, to pray.
Over 1,200 people have been tragically killed.
Over 130 are believed to be held as hostages in Gaza.
And some 360,000 reservists have been called to serve.
We are all soldiers in Hashem’s army, and we must fulfill our duty. This is not the time for business as usual. It’s a call to action. And from what I’ve seen, that’s why our malls are empty. Yes, the Home Front Command has said a business can only operate if its employees and patrons can reach a protected space in time. It’s true that there’s no school. And yes, many businesses can’t operate without all their employees, who are currently serving in the reserves.
But regardless of where we are in the world or what we do professionally, we must take these days as our own call to action and use them to the fullest. We shall prevail, and we shall thrive! You can be sure our empty stores and malls are a symbol of that.