Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Shemini

In the midst of Passover, we face a new sense of bondage. COVID-19 holds each of us hostage to our homes. For the first time in many of our lives, Jews are unable to share this family-oriented holiday in person. This holiday celebrates liberation past, present, and future. Typically, we invite strangers to our table, ensuring our joint commitment to bringing liberation for all of humanity. The holiday’s call for justice is never “Just Us.” Of course, our Christian friends face the same conundrum for Easter. On the day Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, they will be unable to join as a community, and the holiest day on the Christian calendar will have to pass in spiritual gatherings only. In a few weeks, our Muslim friends will welcome the month of Ramadan. For the month, Muslims will fast from sunup to sundown. The break fast is always a celebration. Often, Muslim communities invite the wider community to join in the celebration. On all other nights, they will still celebrate with family and close friends. This year, there will be no such gatherings.

The way we have always done things – even the holiest of things – are no longer available. I know that many members of the clergy are going to great lengths to try maintaining some sense of normalcy through these days of observance. Using technology, we try to continue providing services and rites in a virtual world. Indeed, some formats work better than others in accomplishing these goals. It is hard to hide the afikomen (symbolic dessert) at a virtual Seder. I am not sure how a Priest/Pastor gives communion through a computer.

Reading this week’s Torah portion, we find that the Tabernacle is open for business. On the 8th day, Aaron completes the opening rituals, just as God prescribed. The new way of worship (the altar) was open for business.

We live in a world requiring innovation in ritual. As incredible a tool technology is, we have to be mindful that for those unable to own, operate, or gain access to computer technology, we might as well have shut our doors. Whether they ever felt welcome or not in the past does not matter; they have now fallen through the cracks. Our seniors, those infirm, the impoverished – all who would be considered those most at need, are no longer on our radar as our energies move all on-line. In the case of our current quarantine, these are the people who find themselves most in need.

As we continue to grow the service of our new virtual altar. We need to be mindful that these folks in need – need our special attention. The “thanksgiving” offerings people brought to the altar fed the priest, showing appreciation for their energies. We need to show special love to the healthcare workers, first responders, sanitation workers, merchants still open, and all the folks taking care of people struggling in health, suffering economic impoverishment, or quarantine-based loneliness.

Special thank you gifts (meals, treats, notes, etc.) to these people should not be discretionary gifts. They should be moral and faith-based shows of appreciation. These are our prayers – our offerings – of thanksgiving today.

One great in house initiative is a match offered by congregants for the Red Bank agency “Lunch Break.” This agency serves as a pantry, food table, life skills training center, shelter finder, and so much more. The initial offering is $5000 hoping for a dollar for dollar match from folks. Please give to my discretionary fund to help out.

All proceeds go into client care. When one looks at the so many people doing all that they can to care for each other now, one cannot but understand why I am a prisoner of hope. Shabbat Shalom.