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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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Parashat Vayetze 5781

Posted on November 27, 2020

From the Rabbi’s Desk
Parashat Vayetze 5781

The Supreme Court ruled the other night that it is unconstitutional for the government to place restrictions on numbers of people allowed to attend religious services during the pandemic (or any other time).

It did not, of course, require houses of worship to themselves allow unrestricted attendance. House of worship and the devoted who would dearly like to frequent them are free under the law to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of their community by limiting attendance. And by extension, they would be prioritizing the health and wellbeing of the adjacent communities as well. We can choose to want to protect each other. Should that not be one of the very goals of a religious community?

Similarly on Thanksgiving. We just celebrated a Thanksgiving where millions of Americans chose to gather in smaller groups than usual in order to protect the health and wellbeing of their loved ones. (There were other interesting implications of that as well. The Cantor mentioned that stores ran out of turkeys this year because more households than usual required them as people were not sharing.)

In a d’var Torah in yesterday’s Forward, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman pointed out that right now is not the first time in our tradition that we see the need to divide our households in order to protect them. We see that even in this week’s Torah portion of Vayetze. Faced with the information that his brother was bringing an army to “welcome” him back to Canaan, Jacob split his household into camps. He explained that if one gets attacked, the others may survive.

Divided we stand. Because Judaism puts pikuach nefesh, the protection of lives, first. And the day will come when we will be able to again choose to enter our shul. Together.