Corona. It is a nasty word. Covid-19 another word we do not want to mention often. This virus has held us captive…in our conversations, in our homes, from the workplace, and from normal social behavior.
My family is not immune to the nature of the beast. We had all of our family home for Shabbat, and my IDF soldier was told to report to the base. An hour later, he was told not to report to the base. This directive was then followed by an urgent message that he was reporting to the base for a month…which means his Passover Seder will now be on an IDF base. He was upset for a moment but eager to serve his country in this time of need. He took an oath to serve the State of Israel, even if it puts his needs last.
I myself am currently teaching English in two different schools. We had received a directive that all schools are closed until after the Passover holiday. Keeping schools open was a risk to our health, our students’ health, and the health of the many other workers in the schools. A preventative measure, and a good one at that.
On this past Shabbat, we were limited to praying at our local synagogue in groups of 100 people. We signed up for different locations in order to pray the Shabbat services. And then, we received the directive of only 10 people…This was shocking, but not surprising. Limiting the amount of social interaction appears to be the only way to keep the Corona virus at bay. It is not happenstance that the choice of people allowed is 10…the amount of men needed for a quorum of men to create a proper prayer group. If there is a quorum of 10 people, men can lead a proper prayer service complete with Kaddish (the Mourner’s Prayer), repetition of the Shmona Esreh (the Amida Prayer), and the daily recitation of the Priestly Blessing by a Cohen (mandated in Israel).
But, where would these minyanim be? They could not appear in people’s homes…too risky. The synagogues are closed. Where would these people make make-shift prayer groups. And, then…I was walking my dog near my favorite park. Park Odeliah, a park created in memory of a young mother who tragically lost her life in a car accident several years ago. Odeliah Tourgeman was a teacher, a young mother, a daughter, and a friend to many. Her special park is a beacon of light in her memory. I often stop in this park, with my dog on our morning walk. We sit in a swing, and I find the quiet space a place for personal prayer.
I was about to go to our usual spot, and pray. But, I saw a small group of men praying, with a Sefer Torah held on a small table in front of a park slide…and I stopped in my tracks. I heard the words of the Torah being read. For, it was Monday, and the Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays during the week. My dog and I listened…bewildered by the sight. We stood and listened to the Torah portion from Exodus of Parsha Vayakel and Pekudei, and contemplated its significance.
And we listened to the words being read “Take for yourselves a portion for God, everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it…”(Exodus 35, 5). It is a directive for the Jewish people to take upon themselves the privilege of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of prayer used in the desert. Everyone was to contribute to this holy, and magnificent place. But the word “portion” in Hebrew is “Terumah”. Today, modern Hebrew uses this word synonymously with a “charitable contribution”. How apropos to this time.
On my Facebook feed, LinkedIn, Twitter, and WhatsApp there is a continuous stream of ways to help people in need. Some are taking to singing in their courtyards with neighbors. Others are shopping for food items for elderly neighbors. People are creating care packages for soldiers who are with limited laundry options for 30 days. Zumba instructors are giving free online classes. Teachers are creating online platforms to teach their students through various online websites. And, others are spending family time, enjoying games and nature with their families. We are all GIVING to others in ways we previously rushed past. We are stopping, taking hold of our own needs and putting others before our own.
Yes, Corona is a pandemic, it is evil, and it lurks in its wake and hits many with a vengeance. Yet, it has given us all a wake-up call to be GIVERS. It has taught us how to STOP, take stalk in what is truly IMPORTANT. And, to realize that perhaps we did not appreciate the opportunities to truly connect, give and contribute to a better future. As it says in Psalms, “Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your house, continually they will praise You…Praiseworthy is the man whose strength is in You, those whose hearts focus on upward paths” (Psalms 84, 5-6). May God’s hand keep this virus at bay as we contemplate our place and true purpose on this Earth.