March 13, 2020 – Ki Tissa

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Parashat Ki Tissa, Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

In this week’s parashah Ki Tissa, we read one of the most memorable incidents of our people’s wilderness journey, that of the golden calf. It is an unfortunate incident that we relive each year as we read this parashah, and it serves as a great reminder of what can happen when we let our anxieties and fears get the better of us. Just consider the story. . .

Moses was on Mt. Sinai, receiving the commandments from God, and told the people he would return at a certain time, but he was delayed. The people began to worry, to fret, to wonder. “Did Moses abandon us? What are we supposed to do without him here? How will we know what to do? Where to go? How could Moses and God do this to us; leave us here, alone, in the wilderness?” I can just imagine question after question, anxiety and tension on the rise, as individuals and then soon much of the community, has spun themselves into a web of fear and despair. At that point, instead of stopping to think and make calm, rational decisions, they allowed themselves to be led by fear and anxiety and lost faith in themselves, their leader, and ultimately God. Together they forged a tangible image, a golden calf, which they thought would bring them relief from the chaos, and yet, it didn’t. It created even more, as Moses’ anger upon seeing the chaos and the calf, caused him to break the commandments he had received, and the chaos and the calf ignited God’s anger. Thankfully, in the end, Moses was able to calm God and save the people from destruction, but the damage was done, and the community had to rebuild from the chaos and despair.

Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the tale of the golden calf falls this week, when we truly begin to face the reality of Coronavirus (COVID-19). This incident in our peoples’ past can serve as a reminder of how not to act during times of uncertainty. It can be easy to allow anxiety and fear to take over, to let them become the lens through which we act and react, and yet, as we learn from our tradition, this is not the way. As we face the uncertainty of Coronavirus (COVID-19), this is a time for calm, thoughtful action. It is a time to recognize that though things seem scary and perhaps unknown right now, we must remember, “this too shall pass,” that we will get through this. And, it is important for us to remember that we are not alone, we don’t have to go through this by ourselves.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed regarding the COVID-19 virus and the constant flow of new information but let us learn from our ancestors and not let fear and anxiety rule the day. Instead, let us focus on the values of Pikuach Nefesh (saving a life) and Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh (our responsibility to one another). Pikuach nefesh, (saving a life), whether it be our own life, the life of a loved one, or the life of a stranger, is a value that supersedes all else. It reminds us that we must be concerned with our own well-being as well as consider that of others, this means, that if you are not feeling well, please stay home for your own sake, as well as for the sake of others. And, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh – let us be mindful of our responsibility to each other.

United Hebrew is your community, your synagogue. At times such as this, it is important to remember that a synagogue is much more than a building; we are a community of Jews and our loved ones seeking to live our lives in beloved, cherished community, to study Torah, to celebrate life’s glorious moments and hold each other close when we mourn, to pray, and to strive together to make our world a better place. And, the synagogue is a community that can be accessed in many ways. If, at this time, you are not feeling well or don’t feel comfortable coming into the building, we are here for you, whether it be through our online prayer services, calls with our clergy, staff, and congregants, or staying connected through our website and social media.

UH is your community. Let us travel this unknown together. If at some point down the road you are feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the increasing disruptions of daily life or if you find you have contracted the virus or are taking care of someone who has contracted the virus, please let us know so that we can support you in your time of need.

This is not the time for fear, anxiety, and “calves of gold” that we believe can calm our nerves. Instead, let us look forward, recognizing that we inevitably must walk this journey, but we can make it better, perhaps even easier by walking together and celebrating the many beautiful lessons and gifts of our tradition. Let us start with Shabbat. Whether you are joining us at UH to celebrate First Responders or you are celebrating in the comfort of your home, may Shabbat offer you a moment of peace, of blessing, and of calm in this time of uncertainty. We pray for good health and well-being and ask the Holy One of Blessing to protect us all.

Shabbat Shalom!

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