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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Max Davis

In the time of the pandemic

אוֹי מֶה הָיָה לָנוּ! Oy, what has befallen us! Tisha B'Av Kinnah #1 רִאשׁ֥וֹן לְצִיּ֖וֹן הִנֵּ֣ה הִנָּ֑ם וְלִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם מְבַשֵּׂ֥ר אֶתֵּֽן׃ The things once predicted to Zion— Behold, here they are! And again I send a herald to Jerusalem. Yishaya 41:27 These are the days of miracles and wonders... – Paul Simon, 1986

Dear Friends, Contemplating an empty and shuttered shul this Shabbat, I can’t help but hear the refrain from Tisha B’Av Kinnah #1, ‘Oy meh hayah lanu!’ – What has become of us! This Kinnah was composed to bemoan the destruction of our most sacred shul, the Beit HaMikdash, and the social calamity that ensued. However, as surely as Tisha B’Av transitions to Tishrei and the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash led to a rebirth of Yiddishkeit in new and innovative ways, we are seeing the stirrings in our community of a profoundly positive and touching energy. This Shabbat is Shabbat HaChodesh, heralding the new month of Nisan, springtime and our rebirth. There is much to say about where we are going but first, a brief reflection on the past three weeks at Darchei Noam: Shabbat Shekalim, three weeks ago, was the final Shabbat before the month of Adar. As our ancestors have done for centuries, we anticipated Purim and Pesach and contemplated how to spend our hard earned shekels to sustain community in the new year ahead. Then came Shabbat Zachor with its ominous undertone. We read of the scourge of Amalek, the force that first attacked our most vulnerable. Those who attended shul may have noticed individually portioned food at Kiddush, thanks to the labor of our volunteers, and we davened for those who were suffering in other distant communities. But Purim was in the wings. Our shul freezers and pantries were jammed with chicken and hamentaschen and a small army of volunteers would mobilize after Shabbat to produce a magnificent seudah. Purim passed, and things got strange in shul. Those who attended will probably remember it as the Shabbat of Social Distancing, but really, it was Shabbat Parah. How bizarre it was to spread out across the sanctuary and social hall. How exposing it felt to sit on our little islands, several feet from our nearest neighbor. Most of all, how sad it was to daven b’tzibbur with half the tzibbur unable to be present. It is worth noting that Shabbat Parah reminds us of Hashem’s sometimes unfathomable ways. The ashes of the parah adumah, used for ritual purification, convey the very opposite to their priestly handlers. What an apt metaphor for the heroic caregivers, often inadequately protected, on the front lines of the present pandemic. However, we were blessed to be together and we enjoyed the simcha of Toviyah’s aufruf. Some of us were even hopeful that we had found a sustainable, albeit, awkward way to keep Darchei’s doors open. Now, this week, Shabbat Hachodesh, the shul will sit empty. Not only does this mark the first time Darchei Noam has ever been closed on Shabbat, but considering the broader history and roots of our community, it has surely been well over a century since so few Jews in the Twin Cities gathered to celebrate Shabbat in shul. Oy, meh hayah lanu! But, Shabbat HaChodesh is one of the most important Shabbatot of the year, and it arrives not a moment too soon. This week, we celebrate the imminent arrival of the month of Nisan, the month of our redemption; of progressing from the lowest of slave pits to becoming servants of the Almighty. (It is also one of three Shabbatot whereupon we could potentially read from three sifrei Torah.) Some communities insert the beautiful poetry of Yotzrot into the davening. The astute reader will note that the initial words of the Musaf Yotzrot lines combine to proclaim the words of the prophet Yishayah (41:27) רִאשׁ֥וֹן לְצִיּ֖וֹן הִנֵּ֣ה הִנָּ֑ם וְלִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם מְבַשֵּׂ֥ר אֶתֵּֽן׃ The things once predicted to Zion— Behold, here they are! And again I send a herald to Jerusalem. This pasuk was a proclamation of redemption and hope during a time of immense upheaval. Of course, it is sadly unlikely that the coming month will bring about a redemption from Coronavirus, but a redemption of another sort has already commenced. If the Chronicles of Darchei Noam are written some day - Sefer Divrei Darchei Noam – the chapter devoted to this past month might be titled “Powerlessness and Empowerment.” These weeks have provided a stomach churning study of contrasts. How utterly small and powerless we are to stop the tsunami of infection. How rapidly our world has contracted in the face of a disease widely unknown to humanity before December 31st. Yet despite our powerlessness, the hour of urgent action has arrived and the slightest, most incidental act could spread or stymie global pandemic! An extra hand washing. Doorknobs avoided. A properly executed sneeze. Our empowerment has never been greater, and if a bat can ‘flap its wings’ in Wuhan and affect civilization, surely a human in Minnesota can have a vast impact as well. Beyond hygienic considerations, our power to shower warmth on our neighbors is at a marvelous high. As much as the news is punctuated by fear and uncertainty, we see at all levels of society expressions of ‘ve’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha’- love your fellow as yourself. Not bad for a people entering hibernation. Recent feats of Daf Yomi inspired legions of Jews to boost their learning. I am hopeful that this virus will do the same for gemilut chasadim, connection and empathy. There are so many deeply touching examples of caring within our own small community. Phone calls and food deliveries. Zoom meeting groups, children leaving sidewalk chalk messages, homeless shelter food drop-offs... and we’re just getting started! There is another verse that has been rattling around my mind in recent days, aside from Kinnot. It is a line from Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble, thirty-five years ago. “These are the days of miracles and wonders, this is the long distance call.” I believe he was celebrating our technological achievements and ability to reach out to one another. The efficacy of technology and science in the face of this (and the next) pandemic is currently on trial. But the beauty of the long distance call, of our ability to reach out as Hashem reached out to us in Mitzrayim bizero’a netuya, with an outstretched arm – these are truly the days of miracles and wonders, and what an honor to participate in such a community with you in such times. This week, with the reading of Vayakel Pekudei that we must observe at home, we complete Sefer Shemot. Were we in shul, we would rise and shout in unison Chazak chazak v’nitchazek – be strong be strong, and let us be strengthened. You will be in my prayers this Shabbat HaChodesh, this Shabbat of wonders, and with all my heart, I shout to you, to Klal Yisra’el, and to a world in pain: Chazak chazak, venitchazek!

“Soul and Breath” A Tefillah by Dr. Elana Stein Hain

“נשמה ורוח”

Our God, the souls and breaths that you have placed within is are pure You created them, You fashioned them, You breathed them into us and You preserve them within us, And for each and every breath we must praise You, As is written, “Every soul (neshamah) shall praise God,” “Every breath (neshimah) shall praise God.

א-לוהינו, נשמות ונשימות שנתת בנו טהורות הן אתה בראתן אתה יצרתן אתה נפחתן בנו ואתה משמרן בקרבינו, ועל כל נשימה ונשימה חייבים אנחנו לקלס לך כדכתיב ,כל הנשמה תהלל י-ה, כל הנשימה תהלל י-ה

Lord of souls and breaths, We seek out Your face, and Your spirit to hover over the deep that has opened up To breathe into us once again the breath of life For we are in great travail – all who bear the breath of life And we do not know what to do.

אדון הנשמות והנשימות, מבקשים אנו את פניך ואת רוּחַך לרחף על פני התהום שנפתח להפיח בנו עוד נשמת חיים כי בצרה גדולה אנחנו כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁמַת רוּחַ חַיִּים בְּאַפָּיו ובאפיה ואנחנו לא נדע מה נעשה

Instill within all medical teams and world leaders a spirit of wisdom To understand, to discern to learn, to teach and to do A spirit of counsel and might to renew their strength. And instill within all of us a spirit of knowledge to protect ourselves And the fear of God to care for our fellow – the weary, the exhausted and infirm And to honor our elders.

תן בכל צוותי הרפואה ומנהיגי תבל רוּחַ חָכְמָה להבין ולהשכיל ללמוד וללמד ולעשות ורוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה להחליף את כוחם ותן בנו רוּחַ דַּעַת לשמור על נפשותינווְיִרְאַת ה’ לטפל בזולת, בעיפים וביגעים ובנחשלים, ולהדר פני זקנינו.

Bless us with a spirit of forbearance for we have not enough strength against this great multitude that comes against us. And fulfill through us that which is written: “Thus said God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them forth, Who spread forth the other and that which comes out of it, Who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk therein. I, the Lord have called you in righteousness and have taken hold of your hand and protected you…”

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