Corona. It used to be a beer. Probably evoking either thoughts of merriment or of bad tastes. Now, people shudder when they hear it. Who? Have I been in contact with them? Do I need to quarantine? What about getting tested? The world changed. In a short period of time, our lives have been turned upside down. What’s it all for? What’s it about?
I can’t say I have the answers, but I can filter through all the foolishness, memes, and jokes I got to tell over a few nice things I saw.
The Torah portion that would have been read this week in shul is the rules and regulations of building the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a physical “center” for Hashem’s presence in this world. One thing that is clear is that Hashem doesn’t need a “center”. The Mishkan symbolized ourselves in some ways, we need to clear space in our minds and hearts for Hashem so that he will reside within us.
Most of us are more or less stuck at home. We can use this opportunity to infuse our homes with holiness in ways that normally wouldn’t happen. Show our younger children who can’t or don’t come to shul what prayers look like. Sing the songs we sing in shul with them, don’t make it into a hurried quiet affair. Make your own home into a “center” for Hashem.
I received the following story which can help diffuse some of the somberness of the requirement that we don’t go to shul to pray. Two brothers, the famed Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk and Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, often wandered about together, posing as simple beggars. They would mingle with the masses, listening, teaching, speaking, helping and guiding whomever and whenever they could.
Once, while they were traveling with a group of vagabonds, members of the group were accused of being thieves, resulting in the entire bunch being thrown into jail. Confident of their innocence and eventual release, the two brothers sat quietly. As the afternoon progressed, Rabbi Elimelech stood up to prepare himself to pray the afternoon service. “What are you doing?” his brother asked.
“I’m getting ready for minchah,” replied Rabbi Elimelech.
Rabbi Zushe pointed at the waste pail in the corner of the room. “It is forbidden to pray in this cell,” he said, “because the odor coming from that pail makes the room unfit for prayer.”
Dejected, the holy Rabbi Elimelech sat down.
Soon after, Rabbi Elimelech began to cry. “Why are you crying?” asked Rabbi Zushe. “Is it because you are unable to pray?” Reb Elimelech answered affirmatively.
“But why cry?” continued Rabbi Zushe. “Don’t you know that the same Hashem who commanded you to pray, also commanded you not to pray when the room is unfit for prayer? Be happy that Hashem has afforded you the opportunity to obey His law at this time, no matter what it is.”
“You are right, my brother!” exclaimed Rabbi Elimelech, suddenly smiling. The feelings of dejection banished from his heart and mind, Rabbi Elimelech took his brother’s arm and began to dance from joy as a result of performing the mitzvah of not praying in an inappropriate place.
The guards heard the commotion and came running. Witnessing the two brothers dancing, the guards asked the other prisoners what had happened. “We have no idea!” they answered, mystified. “Those two Jews were discussing the pail in the corner, when all of a sudden they came to some happy conclusion and began to dance.”
“Is that right?” sneered the guards. “They’re happy because of the pail, are they? We’ll show them!”
They promptly removed the pail from the cell!
We will have many things thrown our way in life. Different times call for different proceedings, but that doesn’t change the goal. We are here to serve Hashem in whatever way the situation allows for. There are many resources available for learning either online or over the phone. Use free time wisely.
May Hashem grant us all health and fortitude to pass this latest test.