My friends, we find ourselves time of grave peril and of hidden opportunities. The peril is most evident and becoming more so daily, as more is learned about the novo coronavirus. Many of us are in the so-called “high risk” group for developing complications. And…. we are among the privileged—people with safe, comfortable homes, networks of supportive friends and community members, health care teams in place, perhaps some savings to tide us over through a time of financial uncertainty. Millions of people in this country and across the world are not so fortunate. Our hearts know this, and our prayers for the collective take on extra force and urgency, as we face the magnitude of what is before us.
But what of the opportunities? How can we imagine them, uncover them, and begin to take action, even when we’re not gathering face to face? I had the blessing to be on a zoom call today with some amazing leaders in the Jewish community, deep thinkers and dreamers, convened by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which supports some of the most innovative programs and forward thinking in the Jewish world today. We shared our perceptions and began to look at how growth and even positive change might come out of this crisis.
Among many insightful words that were spoken, several folks (including me, as you might imagine) spoke to the fact that the pandemic is waking us up to the importance of living more fully in our bodies, the need to listen more deeply to the body’s needs. And not just our personal bodies, but the bodies of our neighbors, of our communities, the bodies of animals and plants, the great body of the Earth.
This requires slowing down—slowing down the electric speed of our brains to listen more deeply to the quieter voices of wisdom flowing toward us from every created thing, including from deep within our own physicality. Staying home, cultivating more local fields of concern—attending to ourselves, our family members, our neighbors, our pets, our gardens—as best we can, brings us more into the here-and-now, into this moment, this breath, this piece of ground—the only time-space in which we can truly act.
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, chronicles the disastrous effects of the newly freed Israelites' panic when their leader, Moses, is gone too long, receiving instruction from The Divine Oneness atop Mt. Sinai. Their fear leads them to act in ways that are ultimately against their own interests—to place their faith in a false god, a golden statue. Of course, there’s much to be learned there, but even before that, the parshah begins with the words, “Vay’daber YHVH el-Moshe leymor: ‘ki-tisa et-rosh b’nei Yisrael….’ “The Divine spoke through Moses saying, ‘When you take a census of the people of Israel….’ ” In Hebrew, the phrase that translates “take a census” literally means, “lift up the head” of each Israelite. To count the people is to “lift up their heads,” to make them feel counted, to make them count.
How significant is it that we, here in the U.S., are in the midst of census-taking right now? How ironic is it that our national leaders have done everything they could to suppress the true census count, putting obstacles in the way of people’s even feeling safe to be counted, tricking them into filling out fake census forms? And how much in this current crisis will we see—are we seeing—the dire effects of dis-counting people? Of leaving so many people behind, uncounted, uncared for? The poor, refugees, immigrants, tribal people?
Perhaps part of the opportunity embedded in this time of grave trouble is the opportunity to see and know, more clearly than ever, how inter-connected we truly are, to come to truly understand how much we depend on everyone’s presence, every people's wisdom, every community’s resources and resourcefulness? Perhaps, if we can stay present and loving in the face of fear and real danger, together, we will begin to dream systems and ways of being that will include everyone, lift up every head. Perhaps we can begin to learn from those who live close to the earth, that only in truly caring for one another and the earth, can we begin to birth the ways of being that will allow us to survive and humbly steward our earthly home.
During the zoom call today, it was suggested that we reframe “social isolation” as “physical distancing,” an opportunity to be with ourselves, to look inward and catch up with our lives, and to begin to imagine and implement ways to stay lovingly connected and socially active, even when we can’t be in the same room together. I bless you with all my blessing power to keep an open heart, to stay well and safe, and to be in touch when you can.
Shabbat shalom and much love,