By Rabbi Gavriel Rudin, Young Israel of Ottawa
In these very difficult times we find ourselves in, I struggle to find the proper words to write. Mass illness, confusion, and uncertainty have become our new norm. Jewish organizations, schools, and shuls are dark and empty. In the past, when the Jewish people were faced with tough times, the first place we ran was to our shuls. We would come together as a community and pour our hearts out to our Father in Heaven. Unfortunately, in this crisis, shul gatherings are not an option. I shudder to think of the last time we closed our shuls, not knowing when they would reopen.
At a time like this we must turn to our holy Torah and to the teachings of our sages to guide us. The Talmud tells us, “The Sages taught: If there is a plague in the city, gather in your feet and stay home.” Aside from the obvious need to protect ourselves from a contagious epidemic, the commentators explain there is another meaning to this statement. When an event of serious magnitude is taking place, we have to stop and go home and think. We must think about what we should do, how we can improve ourselves, and most importantly, what message God is sending us. Everything that happens in our lives is a message from God and we must take the time to stop and listen.
In truth, it is the responsibility of every person to listen to their own message. We must all look deeply into ourselves and discover the areas of our lives that require more attention and effort. Additionally, I would like to share a thought of my own. We have all learned a new concept in the past few weeks: social-distancing. We can no longer socialize as we used to. We can no longer gather in large groups, get together with friends, and certainly, we must limit all physical contact.
This is an opportunity to think about our past social interactions. Were they appropriate? Were we kind? Did we think before we spoke? Did we think about others’ needs and sensitivities or only our own? Was our speech refined? Did we appreciate how lucky we are to have such wonderful families, friends, and communities? It can sometimes be difficult to appreciate what we have until it is taken away.
We also must pray. While we can no longer pray together in shul, we have to pray, now more than ever. The Jewish people and the world need our prayers. When we pray, although we cannot physically pray together, we must pray together nonetheless. We must be united in our prayer and in our thoughts towards each other. The time to end silly divisions which keep us apart is now!
These are certainly trying times, but that is no reason to lose hope. The Jewish community has an incredible ability to step up to the challenge when the going gets tough. I am confident that if we stick together (figuratively, of course) throughout these times of hardship, and inspire ourselves to grow from these difficulties, we will see God’s quick salvation, speedily, in our days.