With tremendous gratitude to Hashem, I am happy to report that all the people in our community who tested positive for Covid-19 have recovered.
As we look forward to reopening the Synagogue pG this coming Monday, I wanted to share some personal reflections with you.
Most poignant with the recent closure of the Synagogue for Simchat Torah, Covid-19 has created a fundamental rupture in the fabric of our communal life, disrupting our established infrastructure and daily routine.
Reflecting after a crisis necessitates us to find the right tools to transform our challenges into opportunities.
Generally, people tend to seek to be part of a group in fearful situations and times of danger. When there is a threat, there is safety in numbers. We feel protected when we are part of a group. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic is that Covid has created the opposite effect where safety is being distanced from one another. People have locked themselves away from one another without the protection and comfort of a group.
Perhaps ‘social distancing’ portrays the wrong messaging. We may need to be physically distant to keep safe but to get through challenges together, now is the time for an even greater connection to one another and our community.
In my conversation with Chief Rabbi Mirvis several months ago, he mentioned that the past year and a half had highlighted that, as crucial as synagogues are, the essence of community is not a building; it is people. All people count, whoever they might be. All have a place within our community, and all must feel at home in our midst.
At a time like this, our mandate of ואהבת לרעך כמוך to love every single Jew is critical. True love is not just tolerating one another. Love is noticing someone is having a bad day, feeling their pain, showing someone you care, even when that person is someone you barely know or may not know at all.
There are people around us hurting, lacking, or in pain. While this is unfortunately true year-round, it is especially true at this moment in time. If we claim to love these people, we cannot fail to notice them. We need to be creative and sensitively finding ways to help, support, or just let them know we are thinking about them.
While observing, feeling and hearing some of the tensions and judgment the recent challenge has generated, I was reminded of a story I heard many years ago.
A young couple moved into a new neighbourhood. The following day while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbour hanging laundry outside. “That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.” Her husband looked on, remaining silent.
Every time her neighbour hung her wash out to dry, the young woman made the same comments. A month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her?”
The husband replied, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”
As a result of inherent ambiguity or nonspecific guidance, “corona shaming” and Lashon Hara abound. Some are indignant at the carelessness of friends and neighbours, while others are appalled by how extreme the people around them are acting. Given the stakes involved with nearly every aspect of this, it is hard not to expect and demand everyone to have the same attitude you do to this dreaded virus and the proper behaviours to avoid its spread.
The famous comedian George Carlin made a brilliant observation: “anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.”
While we as a community have adopted the guidance of Vancouver Coastal Health and the Centre for Disease Control and continue to encourage safety protocols and policies, ultimately, we would do well to realize that there is much that we cannot control as individuals. Communally, we must continue to emphasize, promote and demand compliance with safety policies, but as individuals, let’s not compound the challenges of this time by forfeiting our serenity over things and people we can’t control. Rather choose to focus instead on that which we can.
What we see when watching others depends on the cleanliness and clarity of the window we look through. Before reacting incredulously to the behaviour of others or speaking lashon hara about them, make sure to clean your windows first and then ask yourself, how consistent are you with all your choices and actions? Are you not making your determination as to what is essential and what is non-essential? Do you not rationalize your exceptions to your own rules? As the Talmud (Baba Batra 60b) tells us, “Keshot atzmecha v’achar kach keshot acheirim,” roughly translated as, “Correct yourself first and only then correct others.”
In this week’s Parsha Hashem charges Avraham, “V’heyei beracha” – and you shall be a blessing. This surely can’t be a promise that he will be blessed because Avraham was already told by G-d merely a few words before “va’avarechecha” – I will bless you. So what does it mean? Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that there are two types of people – those that live life looking to receive blessings and those that lead their lives trying to be the blessing.
To be a progeny of Avraham is to take whatever blessing we have and to use it to become a blessing in other people’s lives. We don’t live with a sense of entitlement to be blessed. We live with a sense of obligation to be a blessing.
We must never forget the power of a community that cares, one which supports us and provides an essential safety net that will catch us if we fall. Let us count our blessings and do our bit to be a blessing for others and bounce back even better and stronger than before.
We are finalizing the details of our exciting upcoming winter programming and classes by fascinating guest lecturers. We look forward to seeing you join us both in-person and online.
Wishing you a restful and healthy Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay