There is a beautiful Korean saying that I often return to; “No flower blooms without also being blown by the wind.”
Today we are being blown by a new wind. We are learning how to hang onto our leaves, stems and petals. We are learning to turn our faces toward the sun. We are learning to live with separation, loneliness, uncertainty. And we are learning how to live with the fear of being blown away, like a dandelion after it has gone to seed.
Like the rest of the Baby Boom generation, I have never lived with rationing, with war at the doorstep, with family and friends disappearing forever, with the fear that I will be next. I know the stories of deprivation and fear that Jews and others suffered during the Holocaust, but trying to comprehend these things intellectually is impossible.
Trying to understand a worldwide pandemic also is impossible. Especially when it has barely reached us. Here in Florida there are only 400 reported cases of the virus. In New York State the number has soared to nearly 8,000. But of course, we all believe that it is far more extensive than just the people who’ve been tested or gotten sick. And nearly everything is closed. Stores, beaches, restaurants. Even if we wanted to go somewhere, there aren’t many choices.
But here we are. About to enter into Shabbat. How do we reconcile the current situation with being commanded to be joyous on Shabbat?
Here’s one answer. I have been participating in a Facebook page with the clunky name Multifaith Clergy and Spiritual Communal Responses to Covid-19. It was started by a reconstructionist rabbi with whom I have studied, Rabbi Joshua Lesser in Atlanta. Currently there are more than 5,000 clergy people engaged with it.
This morning Rabbi Lesser posted “TGIF. Gratitude roll call.”
The very first response was “Grateful to be. Just be.” That’s lovely, but my favorite was the person who is grateful for coffee and chocolate.
For my part, I am grateful for so much. For the technology that allows my congregation and me to pray and sing together, even when we are not together physically. I am grateful for the amazing musicians who join me for every Friday night service. I am grateful for so many people who make my life better. I am grateful for the Great Blue Heron who has been visiting me lately, and flew by as I typed these words.
And I am so grateful for Torah, a timeless text that speaks to us as clearly today as it did millenia ago. The first part of this week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel, which means to assemble; in other words, to come together as a community as mine does every Shabbat, even in these days of pandemic when we must gather virtually.
In it, Moses reminds the people to keep the Sabbath, and collects from them freely-given materials for building the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that they will carry through the desert to the promised land.
And the next part is Pekuday, which brings us to the end of the book of Exodus. At the very end, with the Tabernacle completed, assembled, and all of the elements put in place, Moses discovers that he cannot enter. Why? Because the Cloud that had been traveling with them, the Presence of God, filled it. There was no room for Moses.
But I wonder. What if he had tried to enter? What if he had had the courage and daring to walk into the Cloud and say “Hinayni. Here I am. Tiny, merely human, but willing to do my part.”
Sometimes, God’s presence feels so real that we can almost see, almost touch the Divine. But not always. Sometimes God’s presence feels distant and hard to reach. In times like ours, when the cloud can feel impenetrable, with no room for us in the sacred spaces, I believe that our challenge is to move forward anyway.
To walk into what seems like darkness and spread our own light. To be a light unto each other. To be a light unto our selves. To be a light bringer and a light giver in times of darkness. To say, Hinayni. Here I am.