Abq Jew found this Erev Shabbat message on Facebook (where else?) just before Shabbos, via a FB friend of a FB friend of a FB friend (how else?).
But it's a good message anytime.
It's from Rabbi Annie Tucker - the first female head rabbi of Temple Israel Center, a large Conservative synagogue in Westchester County, New York.
You can read more about her here.
Along with much of the Jewish world, New Mexico's Jewish community is moving online. Almost NOTHING is happening face-to-face. Virtually EVERYTHING that's happening is happening VIRTUALLY.
One of Rabbi Tucker's FB friends at The Jewish Center of Princeton wrote:
I just want to take a moment to honor the many clergy people, musicians, and Jewish educators who leaned into this week of uncertainty to hold the collective Jewish world together in a giant virtual hug.
So many people generously lent their talents, voices, instruments, and words of comfort in new and innovative ways to touch people throughout the world.
An Erev Shabbat (Friday Afternoon) Message
A Chasidic story tells of two brothers, Rabbi Elimeleh and Rabbi Zushe, who were once erroneously thrown in jail.
As they sat quietly in their cell, hoping for the chance to prove their innocence and be released, Rabbi Elimelech stood up suddenly.
“What are you doing?” asked Rabbi Zushe.
“I’m getting ready for mincha (the afternoon service),” his brother replied.
Rabbi Zushe pointed to the toilet pail in the corner of the room. “It is forbidden,” he reminded his brother, “to say mincha here because one is not allowed to pray in a room with a malodorous smell.”
Dejected, Rabbi Elimelech sat down and began to cry.
“Why are you so sad?,” asked Rabbi Zushe. “Is it because you’re unable to pray?” Rabbi Elimelech nodded his head.
“But why weep?” continued his brother. “Don’t you know that the same God who commanded you to pray also commanded you not to do so in a place unfit for prayer? We should not feel badly, in this moment, to have let God down. We should rather feel good that we are doing exactly as God would wish.”
“You are right my brother!” exclaimed Rabbi Elimelech, suddenly feeling much better. He grabbed Rabbi Zushe’s arm and they began to dance, singing about the cell and the pail and their happiness at being able to fulfill the mitzvah of not praying in an inappropriate place.
When the guards heard the commotion they came running. “All this joy because of a bucket!?” they sneered. “Well, we’ll show them!”
At which point, they promptly removed the pail from the room and the brothers were able to pray as usual!
The last two weeks have been unimaginably difficult, filled with uncertainty, fear, isolation, instability, and so much more. Almost overnight our lives have been turned upside down, forcing us to absorb more unpredictability and change than the human spirit can naturally assimilate.
Many of us are trying to keep young (and not so young) children safe and well-occupied, even while balancing our own professional commitments and trying to maintain personal sanity.
Many of us have elderly parents from whom we will now be separated for an indefinite amount of time with all the concomitant sadness and worry that brings. Some of us have experienced job loss or fear for our family’s financial security. Some of us are deeply concerned for our health or the health of loved ones. All of us have had routines and expectations and plans for the near future completely quashed.
We are suddenly and unexpectedly living in a radically different “new normal.”
As the Chasidic tale conveys, we may also feel, on top of all of these other losses, a sense of being robbed of tradition at this difficult time.
To pray by Zoom rather than in person, to spend Shabbat at home rather than in community, to imagine Pesach without the regular complement of guests around our table - all of this can make us want to sit down and weep just like Rabbi Elimelech.
Yet there is so much wisdom in Rabbi Zushe’s gentle reminder! What we are doing in this moment - keeping safe by practicing social distancing, recreating virtual community in the best ways that we know how, caring for one another and especially for those most vulnerable - all of this is exactly what we should be doing at a time such as this. We honor Jewish tradition precisely by fulfilling it in these somewhat paradoxical of ways!
Over the last two weeks I have been so touched by our extraordinary TIC community and the creativity, resilience, good humor, grace, and courage that exists here. B’nai Mitzvah families have found the spirit to celebrate, even amidst rituals that look so very different from that for which they had hoped and planned.
Individuals experiencing loss have found that virtual comfort is different from physical comfort yet comforting nonetheless. Members of our community have found the most innovative ways to support, share information, connect with, and otherwise care for one another, and our spectacular professional staff has created a virtual synagogue full of religious services, learning, and community building opportunities almost overnight.
While we all deeply miss the joys of being together physically and in one place, the heart of our congregation remains strong and united!
Rabbi Zushe’s story also reminds us that sometimes, often when we least expect it, we can lessen even the most onerous of burdens, not by changing our reality but rather by changing our reaction.
Even before the offending pail had been removed from their cell (an event that occurred, ironically, as a result of their happy singing!), the brothers had lifted their malaise by reframing their experience and even finding in it small pieces of joy. I recognize that this is not at all an easy thing to do and in no way wish to downplay or diminish the painful challenges and disappointments of this moment. Yet I wonder if we, too, can look for slivers of light during these darker of days.
For me, some of the joys of this period have included better connecting with friends and family far away, feeling the creative energy of a team working together in partnership, learning new skills, reading good books, and watching our community reinvent itself before my very eyes.
For others joy might be found in extending kindness to others, being home for bedtime every night, reconnecting with a spouse, getting more sleep, killing it at board-games, and more.
As we make our way through difficult days and share space in environments that suddenly seem crowded, let’s remember to be kind to one another and to ourselves. We may not yet be able to leave the cell, but perhaps the stinky pail can be removed when we meet each other with compassion!
I will miss you tomorrow but wish everyone Shabbat Shalom - a Shabbat of calm and peace,
Rabbi Annie Tucker