March 26, 2021
This week, more than any other since the pandemic began, has seemingly felt like we are turning the corner on COVID. Yes, we still need to make smart decisions, socially distance where appropriate, mask-up in public, and unquestionably pursue vaccination whenever possible. Yet, this week has just felt a little different.
This week I had the opportunity to attend a few outdoor meetings where, as double-vaccinated attendees, we unmasked and faced one another, creating the ability to see facial expressions, understand one another’s body language and unspoken words, and feel the energy from being near one another.
Something strange occurred at these meetings, both when we first met and again when we said our goodbyes. What awkward exchange needed to replace the handshake and/or the hug? In one formal meeting, the age-old handshake turned into an elbow bump and in another, it was a closed-fist knuckle tap. In the informal get-together, my friend and I noticed our unconscious holding of our breath while hugging our goodbye (our welcome was an awkward instinctive move toward one another with a restrained look of “great to see you”).
Humans are a social species. From when Gd told Adam, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18) to Aristotle who years later was quoted saying, “Man is by nature a social animal”, to more recently the Dalai Lama, who explained, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
This weekend, we will celebrate the holiday of Passover. A holiday dependent on community, on others, on sharing our master story. So much so that it has become tradition to invite others, Jews and non-Jews, to the Seder table to retell the journey of the Israelites’ experience from slavery to freedom.
We have lived a year of isolation, of separation, of “social distancing”. We have been apart for so long that social norms are being questioned. The simple handshake that dates back over 2500 years ago, which symbolized the coming together of two people in peace with “weaponless hands”, is a symbol of how we once socialized.
So, whether your Passover is in person or virtual, indoors or out, with just family or with friends, or socially distanced across multiple tables, this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, shares a phrase that is timely and one that we should remember and keep in mind. Leviticus 6:11 mentions the “holy touch”. The contact between the sacred and normative, and how the sacred can elevate the routine to a higher spiritual plane.
Although this specific verse speaks of the literal “touch” that occurs when two things or people come in contact, the message of the verse is equally as compelling if we consider the metaphorical “touch” that we might have with our impact and outreach with whomever we come into contact.
This Passover, we encourage you to reach out and “touch” a neighbor, a friend, a relative, even a stranger (because we “were strangers in the land of Egypt”, Deuteronomy 10:19) and create a holy moment.
We must rebuild our community, and we must come out of COVID with a stronger sense of responsibility to one another. This is the plan for our Jewish Federation because we are…
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,