Posted on July 31, 2020
Parashat Va’ethanan includes the Ten Commandments. With a bit of humor and a nod to parashat va’ethanan, I would like to present (drumroll, please): the Ten Commandments for Temple Israel during Covid.
Commandment #1: We are a congregational community. We are here for each other to share joys and sorrows, to pray and to kvetch, to help and to be helped, to study and to teach. (Yeah, I know, it does not sound like a commandment, but neither does the first of the Big Ten.)
Commandment #2: Do not make the Temple building into an idol. Our building is splendid and it is very hard to see it empty, but our congregation is much more than the building. On Tisha b’Av people were invited to share feelings about not being able to access the Temple. I noticed that while the stories were certainly set in the Temple, the main focus was on the people and experiences of the congregation.
Commandment #3: Do not say that the Temple is closed. It is true that we cannot access our Temple building right now for in-person services or other events. But our congregational community is very much open! We are davening, we are singing, we are learning, we are joining together, we are here, we are not closed. Watch for upcoming events and come to them.
Commandment #4. Observe the Sabbath day and make it holy. I am sure you have noticed the irony that we have services 6 mornings a week but that we do not have them on Shabbat mornings. That is about to change! David Hollander, Robby Pollack, the ritual committee, and others have been working tirelessly to get the right live streaming hardware so we will be able to stream Shabbat services as well as High Holy Day services and possibly other events as well. On Wednesday night August 19th I am going to teach about what the Conservative Movement says about using the computer for live streaming on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Stay tuned for the announcement of the first live-streamed Shabbat service.
And, of course, observing the Shabbat and keeping it holy is not only about shul. Shabbat still exists in our homes even during COVID.
Commandment #5 Respect the wisdom of the generations. We are blessed in this congregation with very long living memories. We are celebrating a centennial this year. One hundred years and we have people here who remember the original founders. It is the right time to share stories and provide an inspiring base on which to build.
Commandment #6. Do not risk health and well-being by ignoring safety rules. On the contrary. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Maintain social distance. Judaism teaches that pikuah nefesh, preserving human life, is a primary mitzvah. This is a big focus as we discuss live and virtual venues for Shabbat and High Holy Day services.
Commandment # 7: Do not neglect the elements that set this community apart from others. We are warm and welcoming. We are egalitarian. We are diverse and strive to increase our diversity. We are open to learning. We are a small congregation with both a rabbi and a cantor. We are not afraid to share our opinions. We are special. Look for what we can add to this list and emphasize and celebrate all of these elements.
Commandment #8: Do not lose opportunities to make this time period work in our favor. Using Zoom offers the benefit of including folks who are physically located in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or Florida or Boston or wherever — and that is a strong benefit. Classes by Zoom allow people who do not go out at night to attend. Morning minyan on the computer lets us sleep a little later and allows people who cannot make it here on time in-person to attend. Distance learning is non-threatening. There are some strong positive benefits. We are all learning new skills. When this is over we will be able to assess what has “taken” and what we want to incorporate into our new normal.
Commandment #9: Do not underestimate the importance of good communication. Parashat va’ethanan begins with Moshe kvetching to God. We all need to kvetch sometimes. And there are good and bad ways to go about it. Part of good communication is to refrain from gossip and behind the scenes sharing. This is a Jewish community subject to the Jewish ethics of speech. Share your thoughts face to face, respectfully. Respect differences of opinion. Let us know when you like something, when you do not like something, and when you have an idea or thought. Appreciate what those around you are doing and tell them so, both in the community and at home. Spread positivity.
Finally, commandment #10: Do not fail to take what is yours. Choose a way to make our community a priority. This is important now and it will continue to be important when Covid is over –which it will be– and when we can return to in-person services, classes and events.
B’vrakhah, Rabbi Spitzer