The Great Pause

Possibly none of us could have foreshadowed the length of this “Great Pause”, which we’ve all involuntarily been asked to lean into. I sincerely hope you are all taking care of yourselves and your loved ones. While the scope of those who suffer under this global pandemic can not be downplayed, the conversations, acts of kindness and connections made at this time prove to be a tremendous source of blessing and gratitude for me.

How are you doing at this time? What sustains you? What practices have you found helpful in countering or softening anxiety, worry and a sense of isolation? What has been helping you feel a greater sense of centeredness?

I’ve been thinking about the expanded meaning of masks at this time, juxtaposed with the way we’ve used them only a few months ago during Purim – back then, we covered our faces to reveal a playful, often concealed component of our personality.

We wore our masks to amuse, to celebrate the courage to be authentically ourselves, rooted in our heritage, identity and larger community. These days the masks that cover our faces (as creatively as some of them get – check out for some DIY mask inspiration, or for an origami version of a facemask) are a shield to protect us from an external adversary: a virus, that has been the source of so much upheaval and disruption in our lives.

It was during the first weeks of physical distancing and lines forming in front of grocery stores that the Torah portions recounted the many opportunities provided for the Israelites to worship through sacrificial offerings. Those offerings were the common practice to meet the need to communicate with the divine, give thanks, express regret, attempt atonement and express status.

I’ve been imagining the lines of people forming outside of the temple back in ancient times — Lines of people coming from all over the land, each with an offering charged with hope to be worthy of acceptance, lines of people perhaps eying the offerings of those in front or behind them. A Midrash* (Leviticus Rabbah 3:5) on the topic of offerings recounts a story, in which a woman is told to have brought a handful of fine flour as an offering to the temple. It is said that the priest scorned her, saying: “Look what she is sacrificing! It’s too cheap to sacrifice! It’s too cheap to burn on the altar!”

The midrash goes on to tell that the Divine appeared to the priest in a dream “Do not scorn her! It’s as if she sacrificed her life.” This need for the author of this Midrash to provide the Divine (and not a fellow human being) as the teacher of fairness, by appreciating everyone’s gifts, as well as to recognize the gifts of the disadvantaged in our society that have to work harder, emphasizes for me the ethical importance of generous acceptance of everyone’s offerings. It teaches me to resist the human tendency to value one’s worth by one’s materialistic possessions.

As we stand in lines outside of grocery stores, waiting to be let in and be provided with the opportunity to meet our need for sustenance for ourselves and loved ones, wondering if there will be flour on the shelves or toilet paper or pasta, let us remember the poorest among us and how, to quote Rabbi Rick Jacobs, “poverty may in fact be the deadliest underlying condition”.

Especially at this time, let us find value in our Jewish tradition, liturgy, music and rituals. Let us take advantage of those precious resources as we try to make meaning and find our centeredness and encouragement at this time. May this “Great Pause” direct us towards what matters and may we as a community be there for each other in living out what matters to the best of our abilities.