20/21 Mar: Vayakhel-Pekudei : Shabbat comes in 5:59 pm, ends 7:02 pm
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – Apart and Together
The world is changing quite quickly in front of us right now. Some of us are
self-isolating at home – an act which changes the feeling of the passage of time significantly – and some of us are trying to put as many activities into a hurried day as possible, in preparation for the likely inevitability of distancing from society.
It’s an interesting time to recognise that the kind of isolation required for slowing the spread of COVID-19 is physical – and only physical. At a time of physical distancing, it is incumbent upon us to recognise that emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, we need to be coming together and not pulling apart. This is, of course, a challenge. We are used to doing community face-to-face.
This week’s double-parashah is entitled ‘Vayakhel-Pekudei’ – a term for gathering (from the root of the word k’hillah , community), and a term for counting.
How do we count ourselves as members of a community right now? What does it mean to come together in community, when we are not able to physically come together ? These are questions we will all need to address in the coming weeks. I have a few thoughts.
First, we live in an age of incredible technology. When my grandparents emigrated from India, their only contact with family was through letters that would take weeks to arrive. Every piece of news they sent away or received was outdated by the time it was communicated. Their physical distance necessitated a gap in communication. We no longer live in that world. We need to be picking up our phones and calling one another.
Second, as a shul, we need to be thinking about ‘gatherings’ that do not occur on a physical level. Several of us are already talking about this. If you have ideas, especially if you’re happy to be involved in actioning them, do let us know.
One such gathering that I would like to hold, starting next week (March 27th), is a Tea Time and Torah session on a Friday afternoon. We’ll find a virtual platform to hold this over. Get a cup of tea, maybe even some cake, and join me for a bit of learning. We can study, discuss, touch base, say a prayer or two. I’d love to see you in that virtual space. And, of course, I look forward to seeing you again face-to-face, when this storm has passed us.
Wishing you all the best,
(This commentary is also included in a Community Letter to be sent out shortly.)
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman