Thursday, April 30, 2020

Preserving the Sacred Space

As society is itching to return to a normal life, it is worth asking what, if any, lessons we have learned from the pandemic. Everybody will draw their conclusions and expect the fingerpointing in the political arena to descend to a new low. From a spiritual perspective, it behooves us to ask ourselves what we have learned from this most unusual period. Indeed, there is no one correct answer to this, but I would like to share one angle in light of a startling passage in this weeks Parsha.

The Parsha begins by G-d instructing Moshe that one may not come to the holiest area of the Temple at any time. In fact, not only would the entrance to the Holy of Holies be permitted once a year, it was only sanctioned for the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) to enter this sacred space. For everyone else, it was forever off-limits. The notion of the holiest area in Judaism being off-limits to everyone besides the Kohein Gadol on one day a year sounds counter-intuitive. One would like to think, the more sacred the location, the more times we should frequent the area. In contemporary times, I like to think of the Kotel and how we are encouraged to visit as frequently as possible and yet in ancient times in the era of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), the entrance tot he holiest area was prohibited!

The Rabbis teach us a compelling lesson, and that is the danger of losing one’s sensitivity to the sacredness of the area that may occur with one feeling too comfortable by frequenting the sanctuary. That is why the holiest place in Judaism was off-limits to everyone but the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). This lesson is something that has been gnawing at me since we were compelled to shut the doors of our shul in the face of COVID-19. The gift of individuals coming together to connect as a community in prayer has been temporarily removed from us. G-d willing, we will be able to resume our prayers in shul in the not too distant future. At that point, will we have internalized the preciousness of the Beis Haknesses/Sanctuary? Will our attitude be one of seriousness, or will a nonchalant, casual attitude reappear? If there is one thing that this uncertain period has taught us, it is to take nothing for granted. Let us remember the unique gift of praying in shul, and let is never treat it with anything than the highest respect it deserves.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Utilizing a Period of Reflection

The narrative of an individual that is diagnosed and sent into quarantine to engage in a period of healing before he can reenter society is the message of this week's Parsha. The person was diagnosed with Tzaaras, an affliction of the skin. The Torah teaches us that there are spiritual underpinnings for this physical condition. As part of the healing process, he must engage in solitude confinement. The purpose of this is not for the isolation to be punitive but rather for it to be an opportunity for reflection. The mandatory confinement for a period of reflection is an opportunity for growth as it allows a person to rethink their priorities in life and examine the choices that he regularly makes.

The current period has an uncanny resemblance to this Biblical message. In the year 2020, there are billions of people around the world who are in mandatory confinement and this is proven to be quite a challenge. However, as in our weekly Parsha, there is an excellent opportunity for growth as well. Like it or not, we have been thrown off-kilter and allows us to reflect. Such thoughts can include some uncomfortable internal questions about the things that matter the most to us. That should not be a deterrent to this self-scrutiny. Let us hope and pray that after this period of mandatory isolation, we rejoin society having utilized this period of reflection.

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

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