First a few words about the current importance of social-distancing to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus Covid-19:
We must follow the current recommendations of Social-Distancing to try to stem the tide of this virus. Young people aren’t much of a risk to themselves but as an asymptomatic or mild symptom carriers they can pose grave risks to older people or those with compromised immunity. It’s often the unseen people, with whom we may or may not have direct contact, that is the big issue at stake here. (In a positive twist, it is inspiring to know that we can have positive unknown and unwitting effects on people we don’t even know). Obviously, we’re not a fan of Social-Distancing, neither the reality nor the term, but it is a current reality we have to deal with and respect it and make the best of it. This effects people in so many ways, job-wise, economically, health-wise, mental-health-wise… it affects everyone and everything.
In addition to the medical issue and physical precautions, there are always life lessons and Torah teachings. Here are a few below (in no particular order):
First from our weekly Torah portion. This week (mid-March) is a double header of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The Rebbe often spoke how Vayakhel symbolizes community and collective, while Pekudei is about details and the individual. This was a big general theme of the Rebbe’s – you can read our post on that in “Rebbe, Waldo and Korach” and our son Moshe’s Bar-Mitzvah speech – link to that here and is also embroidered on our Ark at Shabbos House “gathering Jewish people, one by one” but in the context of Coronavirus’ Social-Distancing, perhaps we can see the message of these two joined Torah portions in a new twist: Our togetherness, our sense of community, (our Vayakhel) is by being separate (as Pekudei signifies). The fact that we are distancing ourselves for the sake of the most vulnerable among us is a great testament to our unity and collective unified identity.
History going back to 18th Century: There’s a document circulating now online from the great Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Vitebsk, also known as Mendel Hordoker, who describes being holed up with families in a small courtyard, as if under siege, from Purim until after Shavuot of that year, to protect themselves from a plague that hit that area. And how this “staying home” saved them. Quarantine is a old method. People have also been mentioning that one of the greatest Jewish biographical works, “Shem HaGedolim” a bibliography of Jewish texts and authors, was written by the Chidah (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulay) while under quarantine in – Italy! So it is possible to be productive and active while staying home, especially now with all the technology and resources.
Never Alone! There’s a beautiful HaYomYom entry on Rebbe’s calendar for Iyar 22: This famous English expression reflects the first part of the HayomYom for Iyar 22: “At one time, the master – Rosh Yeshiva or Talmudic sage – was “alone” and his disciples were “alone.” The chassidic way instituted by the Alter Rebbe is a tremendous Divine achievement that the Rebbe is not alone, and chassidim are not alone.” There are a bunch of questions about this short text, but the message of “never alone” is a reassuring and uplifting one. JEM media has a beautiful heartwarming and uplifting video of the Rebbe and Shluchim titled “Never Alone” hope they post it soon on their “Island of Calm” free website at JEM.tv
This favorite enigmatic quote: “Solitude is best among people.” This is a quote from R’ Shamshon Ostropolier, a Kabbalist who was killed in the Chilmenetsky Uprising & anti-Semitic massacres. It seems to be a cryptic, enigmatic message about balancing individual and community, loneliness and togetherness. But a farbrengen of the Rebbe Rashab (printed in Lekutei Dibburim) takes it to a whole new level: “The years of toil nurtured a deep appreciation and close indentification with these words of R’ Shamshon Ostroplier. When one follows this path, and is steeped in the haskala and avodah of Chassidus, one realizes the real intent that the Alter Rebbe and all the succeeding Rebbes had in mind; one realizes the destiny that Chassidus ought to fulfill, both in the individual and in the whole community of Israel.” So this is much more than a message about loneliness, but according to the Rebbe Rashab it is the vision of Chabad. I (Mendel) have a lot of thoughts on what this might mean as a mission statement for Chabad, but perhaps we’ll share that another time.
And this practical beautiful thought: Not sure who authored it but it has been swirling the Jewish internet and it represents what we’re trying to do when we can’t operate Shabbos House normally: “Every hand we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid, must become a verbal expression of warmth & concern. Every inch we physically place between us, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other.”