Disasters tend to affect relationships. At times bringing people closer, and at times pushing them far apart.
The coronavirus, a disaster if ever there was one, is no different. It is affecting relationships far and wide as people deal with isolation, or inundation, self-quarantine or quarantine with a loved-one… none of it is simple.
But there is another relationship being put to the test. Synagogues are shutting down one after another, mikveh’s are no longer a safe space, and a minyan is now considered a health hazard. With all these ties to god, both communal and personal, being chopped off one after the other, we are having to redefine how we connect with the Almighty.
You see, Judaism understands that our lives are busy and full, so it sets out specific times and places where we are able to connect. As you step into the sanctuary of a synagogue, you are severing from the million work emails and your wife’s requests to get milk on your way home. This is a space for your connection to Hashem, even if it is a mere ten minutes mumbling of mincha.
When it comes to work or university, being physically present is a means to an end. Videoconferencing for a meeting or taking online courses is not the biggest deal. But for our religious spaces, being present is the goal. There is a reason that you cannot Skype a tenth man in to make a minyan or put on 3D goggles to virtually dip into the mikvah…. These things demand presence.
But, of course, the number one Jewish value is to choose life. It supersedes everything else, from weddings, to bar mitzvahs, even saying kaddish for a loved one. The concept of ‘Pikuach Nefesh’, saving lives, trumps all.
It leaves us with a challenge, one I hope most of us will conquer. Perhaps, In this time, rather than lamenting the loss of our significant rituals and halachic duties that we are simply not able to do, we can invent new and creative ways of connecting.
Perhaps it is time to channel a new kind of presence- mental presence. Let’s use this abundance of quality time with ourselves for focusing our minds. For those of us who are not tasked with becoming teachers overnight to our children, try take as much time as you can out of the day to switch off your Netflix and switch on your mind. Pick up tehillim, a siddur, say your own prayer, focus on your own voice, meditate and just be *present*.
Let’s not let this time in physical isolation be a time to let our connection to our religion fade away, lets rather use it as a diving board into unfamiliar territory, exploring a mental presence that we may have never had the time to explore before.
Wishing everyone only health, happiness, and of course, connection in these isolating times.