Good afternoon Chevrei:
I hope this bulletin meets you well and making life matter. I have a number of things to announce here.
First, a volunteer and I are working on a special Torah Toast activity, which aims to provide a webinar on parenting and grandparenting through this COVID-19 crisis. Of course, as always, Torah Toast is open to anybody who’d like to participate. We’ll keep you posted. The program is coming soon.
Second, I hope you’ll take a moment to look at the various learning opportunities and other forms of engagement. We have offerings almost daily and throughout the day. And, if you can’t make it at a given time, we record most of our classes. In addition, we are working on something called the Sefirat Ha-Omer Project, which is a daily meditation on Jewish virtues. We keep an archive of all our videos on our Emanuel YouTube page. (https://www.youtube.com/c/EmanuelCongregationReformSynagogue)
Third, speaking of our YouTube page - much like our FaceBook page (@EmanuelCongregation) - it helps Emanuel out when you like our videos (if you really do) and offer thoughtful and constructive comments. We love seeing how you engage with the material and offer a note about insight drawn and inspiration gathered. Please consider jotting something down; we’d be most thankful.
Lastly, I have provided a copy of Friday’s d’var Torah on Parashat Tazria-Metzora. The teaching focuses on the healing power of human gestures and how the novel Coronavirus forces us to rethink how we make such gestures in our isolating realities, and as such, draw each other back into the warm embrace of community.
Struggle on! Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!
Rabbi Craig Marantz
D’var Torah Tazria-Metzora 5780:
Life always seems to possess rituals and routines. In this COVID-age, the rituals seem even more intense. Here are some in my home.
Every morning I prepare to walk my dog Zeus. I put on my special walking clothes that remain by the front door for their sole use. I put on my mask. I collect the garbage for disposal and Zeus and I are off. We return from our walk, and I wash Zeus’s paws with the wipes kept nearby. Then I go wash my hands. And, lastly, I then feed my dog.
Or how about this one? When packages come, we don’t open them for two or three days until safe to do so - just in case they are laden with the Coronavirus. We put them in a special brown paper “quarantine” bag and wait.
When groceries come, the delivery person walks into the building and drops the bags off by our front door, the only human interaction by phone. Then we - well mostly Betsy - washes all the groceries before we help her put them away.
At the heart of these rituals and routines are the use of our hands - or, as the case may be, refraining from the use of our hands. But either way, using and not using our hands present challenges. It’s one thing to let packages sit for a couple of days without opening them. But the lack of a proximate, consensual, caring human touch is just so isolating - even if the isolation is for the greater good.
I am thinking about those in our community and others, who are mourning the loss of loved ones - for some families more than one death due to this novel Coronavirus. Some are able to mourn graveside but must occupy safe distances - everyone masked and gloved, Dixie cups on hand to place earth on the casket, which in turn no one can touch. And for some, the temptation to hug or shake hands - despite potential risk - is irresistible; for others there is no close embrace. There’s no touching of hands. Either way, there becomes this odd deficit that marks the moment. If you get too close, you can pass the virus; if you don’t reach out, the sense of disconnection rises. And this particular scenario unfolds only if people are open to going to the cemetery in the first place, which ignoring COVID altogether is already a nerve-wracking experience. Some mourning practices have gone totally virtual; some even postponed for the time being until it’s safe to congregate. But the healing proximity, the freedom to linger in a moment of close contact is compromised, and regardless of essential precautions, the lack of a comforting touch adds to the loss.
I am also thinking of those in our community sheltering-in-place with little or no internet capabilities. Phone calls from me or Cantor Friedman or volunteers from our fledgling CHESED team have become an essential lifeline for these folks; but however timely and welcome these calls are, they remain a mere facsimile of the proper human touch kindly and safely delivered at 5959 North Sheridan Road - our beloved central address and the physical, palpable home of our sacred community.
The power of the human gesture is at the heart of Parashat Tazria-Metzora, our portion this week. Here, the priest, like the finest of our physicians and nurses responding to COVID-19, identifies the what’s called the nega, the affliction; and then takes whatever steps to heal the infection and accompany the healing soul back into society - through what my Israeli colleague Rabbi Ayala Sha’ashoua Miron calls a “touch of grace.”
There’s an old midrash that interprets the meaning of a tzara’at, an infection that impacts a home - in the form of green and red spots on the wall. In his commentary on the parashat ha-shavua, Rashi offers a curious response in that the affliction possesses good tidings. So the obvious question is: “What could possibly be good about an affliction? Well apparently, the Amorite people hid treasures of gold in the walls of their houses all forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and as a result of the affliction the priest breaks down the house and finds them. Of course, for what it’s worth and with due respect, I don’t know if there are gold or even silver linings in our current pandemic.
That is to say, the Coronavirus has not come about for some utilitarian purpose so we can discover new and golden insights about ourselves and our capacity as a force for good. The pandemic has come. People have been fighting it valiantly. Some could have done a better job at preventing its spread. And, COVID-19 has created a lot of loss. Of life. Of some liberty. Of peace of mind. But, as always, we still have the freedom to make loss and life matter. And I think it’s that effort that will help us uncover whatever hidden treasures might rest beneath the surface.
Maybe the gold is in the wisdom of the healing touch. Sha’ashoua Miron says: “The opportunity that Rashi and this optimistic midrash present to us is the belief that the Nega, the affliction, when touched by a well-meaning, purifying hand, can turn into a blessing for us [and] for society.
So perhaps the treasure lies in a human gesture filled with human grace. The treasure is a form of kind and mentschlich touch. And it also comes in our human capacity to see beyond the physical. And given our isolation, it’s this latter ability that can best help us stay resilient - that a caring human gesture - while preferably more palpable and proximate, will for now have to be delivered mostly by phone or Zoom or in our virtual village. And I pray, that if you feel alone, we’ll notice and with a responsive, loving, and healing gesture we’ll pull you back into the light and warmth of our community.