The Fire of Spiritual Compassion

First, let me wish a mazal tov to Jamie and his family who are in our Brady Bunch or Hollywood Squares (pick your reference) Zoom experience.  It means so much to share another simhah with your family, as we have shared so much over the years.  I know we will celebrate together in the future in person!

Image from Paramount’s The Brady Bunch (end credits) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Second, I am not alone this week.

Matan, who just led/did a duet with Jamie on the Ashrei is here with me in the office and it makes a difference not to be alone staring at the camera.

But, we are not alone.

I am SO grateful to all of you who are on our “virtual bimah” / Zoom webinar and all of you who are at home watching and listening – although we do not see your faces in this format, we feel your presence.  I can literally see the number of you who are participating on the right side of my Zoom box. And now we are streaming, so many more are able to watch from all over.

That means a lot.  SO many of you have reached out by phone, texts, Facetime, emails and in Zoom meetings to let us know how much you appreciate our community.  While we are not together in person, we feel together. Please encourage other friends and members of our community to get online and join a class, minyan, Havdalah singalong, Niggun saloon and more.

Me’ir Sherer delivering YAD dinner to student Bea Kardon (selfie)

This week I want to give a shout out to Me’ir and our Religious School – not only are we up and running via Zoom but Me’ir, Kfir and Jonah Zaslow also delivered the Wednesday night YAD dinner from Rami’s to students’ doors – a real treat!

Our staff continues to go above and beyond every day and our lay leaders and volunteers are doing the same. We will continue to figure out how we can best support each other.

*    *    *

This week the virus feels closer to our community.

I received calls about people in our community whose parents have Covid-19 and I send a message of love and strength to them and their families.

And now, I am receiving calls from members who have lost their jobs.  Others are losing income from their businesses and practices. Please be in touch with us about how we can be of help or just to let us know what is going on with you and your families.

Many of you have asked about my cousin in NY.  She is still in the hospital and please continue to hold her in your prayers.

This week, I officiated at a funeral with only five family members – we took many precautions, keeping far apart and wearing masks and gloves; other family members attended through Facetime.

This is a most challenging time.  Our hospitals are under stress and overwhelmed and we all continue to be worried about those on the front lines.

We are concerned about family and friends in Israel and around the globe.  And we are worried about people in countries which have weaker health care systems, like India.

One of the most challenging aspects of this ordeal is not being able to visit people in the hospital because of the Coronavirus.  Many people are dying alone, without the support of friends and family.

I was grateful to a nurse who held the phone so I could speak with someone.

This was a moment of deep sadness, when I felt the losses we are experiencing most acutely.

*    *    *

I want to offer a piece of Torah to give us some hope, some light.

Parashat Tzav opens with the instruction to have a fire burning continually on the altar – “V’eish HaMizbai’ah tukad bo.”

The Sefar Emet offers the following teaching based on this verse:

“That is the purpose of human worship – v’hu takhlit avodat adam.  Each day a new light comes down upon those who serve God.”

Each new day is a blessing.  As the Siddur states: “Hamehadesh b’tuvo bkhol yom tamid ma’aseh vereisheet – God is One who is renewing creation continually every day with goodness.”

We are taught to see God’s love flowing through this universe and the Sefar Emet wants us to feel that love, that compassion day and night – “it may not go out.”

Sometimes we are able to do this.

We feel filled with positive energy, with hope, with joy and optimism, with compassion and kindness; sometimes, we are not.

Rainy Day in Henry, Illinois (Photo by ProfDEH)

Sometimes, it is cloudy and raining…sometimes it is like that for days!

Sometimes, we are filled with fear and anxiety and we lose that hope, that positive energy.

This may be such a time.

But, that’s when we go back to the basics.

We go back to the old stand-bys.  We watch our favorite shows – I’ve caught some slivers of Friends (maybe because its reruns are on a channel next to CNN, but whatever…..)

Logo from NBC’s “Friends” (Vector Image in Public Domain)
Album cover (Image from Amazon.com)

I’ve gone back to listening to the Smiths – high school and college years for me.  (They can be a bit depressing, but I digress….)

We can go back to the classics like chicken soup or just good old plain peanut butter.

Our tradition says each day we have the power to help feel that divine flow, to experience that Eish – that fire.  Minyan, putting on our tallitot or tefillin, meditating, or studying Torah – these have the power to bring us back, to help us perform a reset, to renew that spiritual fire that is always burning within us.

Find a moment each day – with others through Zoom or alone putting on your tallit or meditating.  Give yourself that daily reboot.

Source: Wikipedia

The Sefat Emet then extends his teaching by reminding us that we are commanded to love, V’ahavta as it says in the Shema.

Love ourselves, love others, and love God.

This is a moment in our lives unlike any other.  Living through this pandemic is bringing us extraordinary challenges, but with them, we are also being given an opportunity.

We each have a light that burns within us all the time.  But some days, we have to find that reset button to bring out the kindness, the compassion, the joy, and the love.

My sister read the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recent rulings about how to observe Pesah during the Coronavirus and it is filled with leniencies and accommodations for this most unusual Passover.

The Law Committee wrote: “As different practices emerge in different communities, let’s all remember to treat one another as kindly as possible, reserving judgment for the Holy One, the One who is always imbued with compassion.”

She wrote on Facebook: “I didn’t expect a CJLS statement on Pesah to make me cry (in a nice way):  Yasher Koah to the authors of the whole statement, and especially those thoughtful lines.”

This is a time for compassion – a deep, spiritual compassion.

My friends, as we journey through this time, we are learning a lot about others and ourselves.  Many have said that war brings out the best and the worst in people. That would be true now as well – in this war.

And this is a time to remind ourselves that eish tukad bo – there must be a fire continually burning within us and especially now, we need to tend and nourish that spiritual fire, continually feeding it, nurturing it so it can keep us whole through this crisis.

Approach ourselves and others with a sense of compassion, spiritual compassion.

When we utilize that fire – through learning, prayer and spiritual practice – when we gather virtually, we can feel it – that sense of goodness, that compassion – coming right through these computers into our homes and into our hearts.

About the Author
Spiritual leader of Temple Emunah, Lexington, Mass. since 2004, David Lerner also serves as the immediate past president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. He is one of the founders of Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston and ClergyAgainstBullets.org. After his ordination at Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Lerner served at NSS Beth El in Highland Park, IL.
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