Friday, April 3, 2020

From the Rabbi's Bunker & S.O.G April 3: God Wants Us to Stay Inside

From the Rabbi's Bunker

This picture says all we need to know about the times we live in...
and it makes clear the plain fact that...

...God Wants Us to Stay Inside

Our tradition tell us that God does not exist solely in the deep-cleaned crevices of the Kotel.  God is everywhere.  God is in other narrow spaces too, like that narrow birth canal from the darkness of Egyptian slavery (the word "Egypt," mitzrayimmeans "narrow places"), or those narrow slits between our fingertips and nails, those hard to access places where disease can grow.  

Here is a handwashing blessing we can recite as we invoke blessing and life with each scrub. Read this - it takes as long as two "Happy Birthdays."

So how do I know that God wants us to stay inside?  Truth to tell, I don't have any idea what God wants.  But any God I would invoke would want us to preserve life at all costs, whether that life be our own, that of our neighbor, those of our fellow Americans and those of others around the world.  We can accomplish all of the above simply by distancing ourselves from other people, which is best accomplished by staying home.

This is a message that had to be repeated constantly by people in the public trust, and that includes religious leaders.  That's the message of an article distributed today by the Religion News Service: "Why religious congregations may be crucial to halting the spread of COVID-19."  The role that faith leaders can play in getting the word out about public health measures is considerable. While some are taking this responsibility seriously - as evidenced by that photo at the Kotel, and rabbis who have addressed the crisis with due halachic seriousness,  and the Pope, who will be celebrating Holy Week essentially alone.  A rabbinic colleague wrote in the New York Times, "I Never Used My Computer on the Sabbath - Until the Coronavirus." And he found, as we have, how enriching the virtual can actually be. Last night we had a wonderful interfaith service (and an equally wonderful women's seder led by Beth Styles).  During the service, I noticed that Rev. Kate Heichler was in attendance and sent a "chat" note to her about how much of a pleasure it was to see her in our virtual midst (she left our community a few years ago).  She replied:

Rabbi Josh, et al, we are paradoxically more connected in our social distancing - we don't think we need to be in the same geographic location to come together. We could have done this anytime - but now it's all we can, so we do.

Yes, God is everywhere, even in a Zoom chat online.  I think I wrote my book Seeking God in Cyberspace twenty years too soon.  What I wrote then is coming to fruition today: "We find God on the Internet because it binds us all as one." Only now are we beginning to truly experience the internet as a sacred place, as opposed to the bastion of social deviants, terrorist murderers, political propagandists and Russian bots. God is there too.

So that is why the scene of packed pews in some states last weekend was so infuriating.  I would hope that Texas and Florida in particular will now get their act together and ban such public gatherings.  Given the efficacy of the current online options, anyone squeezing bodies into pews is committing moral malpractice - and that Florida minister deserved to be arrested.  The only question is whether there should be consequences for his political accomplices and enablers too.

The Talmud makes it clear that God wants us indoors during a pandemic.  My colleague Rabbi Robert Gamer put together a source sheet on the topic, and one of the sources he cites could not be clearer:


Sounds pretty sensible to me.  Get inside, and close the door behind you - and stay there, night and day until the angel of death passes over and that leaves behind a flattened curve.

Why?  Because God wants us to. 


This photo of the New England Patriots truck - taken an hour ago by Melissa Burke-Fahey as it headed into NYC - carrying 300,000 masks that were airlifted from China, for NY's beleaguered health workers.

This crisis has spawned entirely new categories of heroes, the greatest of them being those first responders and medical specialists on the front lines. I am in awe of their courage - and a number of them are congregants at TBE. We send out prayers, love and admiration to lift you up.

Heroes can also be public servants, like all the public health officials who let science guide them and speak truth to power; and political leaders who lead and do not seek simply to cover themselves and evade blame while people are dying.
And then there are the regular people, like the dozens from our congregation who have already responded to our call to assist Stamford Hospital financially and through the construction of face shields.
And there are heroes like a Toronto landlord, described in the following tweet:
In Toronto, several tenants of a building were worried they couldn't pay their rent during the Coronavirus pandemic. Their landlord sent them this letter. His name is Chris. Be like Chris.


Here's a quick access guide to this weekend's prayer and learning events:

Click here to participate in Friday night services this week using Zoom. IF YOU PREFER TO CALL IN BY PHONE AND LISTEN TO THE SERVICE:  CALL-IN (646) 558-8656, MEETING ID 775 369 802.
Click here for a pdf of the Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Click here for a pdf of Shabbat Morning services.  (For you to pray on your own.)
Click here to participate in Saturday morning Torah Study with Rabbi Hammerman using Zoom.   IF YOU PREFER TO PARTICIPATE BY PHONE:  CALL-IN (929) 205-6099, MEETING ID 106 626 196.
Click here for an in-depth discussion packet for the portion, Tzav, on happiness and gratitude.
Click here for a brief summary sheet.
Click here for the entire portion, taken from the Etz Hayim Humash.

Sunday, April 5, at 12:00 p.m. (noon) EDT (New York Time)
Join a world-wide healing service this Sunday with other Masorti/Conservative communities around the world featuring clergy and musicians from Israel, England, Brazil and the United States.  See flyer for details: Click here for Facebook access. 
Sunday, April 5, at 1:00 p.m. on Zoom or by Telephone
Share time together and relax. Click here to participate with Zoom.  
If you prefer to connect by telephone, dial (646) 558 8656, meeting ID 866 408 956.

And click here  to register for our virtual Seder at 6 PM on Wed night. 

More Passover Resources

Okay, I couldn't resist this one

See our archived prior dispatches from the rab-bunker for other Passover resources. 

If you are looking for last minute seder plates and other Passover items, Kol Bo in Boston, the best Judaica store on the planet, is suffering like so many businesses.  Check them out and order online.

Stay safe, stay home and save lives

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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