Trust that together we will overcome these challenging times
By Rabbi Levi Volovik / Chabad of the Berkshires
Being isolated at home during these unprecedented times gave us all a chance to recharge our batteries and tune up our real priorities in life, focusing on the sacred and the meaningful and letting go of the petty and unnecessary. As life threw us a curveball and lockdown disrupted our routine and seemingly secure lives, we began to recognize that we are not the macro-managers of our lives; there is a Guiding Hand above that is in control. We had time to search within us and realize that while we rush around in circles, the center of life, literally, can be "iffy" without purposeful and meaningful goals that transcend the material and the mundane.
Though we are still in lockdown, isolation is not the hallmark of holiness. We were not meant to be alone. We are all part of one Jewish family. We have thrived as Jews because of our ability to unite, as we did at Sinai, standing together as "one person with one heart."
We find that one of G-d's instructions to Moshe was to take a count of the Children of Israel. Not a numerical count, but a count by name. This reminds me of the census-taker who was making his rounds in one of the neighborhoods. At one specific home, he asked his usual question to the woman of the house: "What is the number of children living in this home?" Without thinking twice, she sharply responded, "Sir, there are no numbers here; every one of them has a name!" And saying that, she quickly ran through the names of her ten children!
We recently began Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers (or Book of Countings), the third count of the Israelites in a span of thirteen months that followed our becoming a nation. Obviously, G-d knows how many we are in quantity. Why the count? The reason for the frequent count, as Rashi commentary explains, is G-d's love for each individual. Each one is cherished in His eyes. He counts us to tap into our soul, to remind us that we are not just a number. Each one carries a precious name as one of His children, possessing inherent value and unique potential to play a significant role in His cosmic plan.
Modern technology today has given us options for unknown identity and provides us with ways to remain nameless and faceless. This is not the relationship G-d either has or desires with His people. The G-dly spark within us does not permit us to opt out. We were not counted to simply arrive at a number; G-d already knows that. We were counted to emphasize the qualities, the inner potential and talents of each individual and to highlight the worth and value of every single Jew. Through this count, G-d is telling each one of us that we matter, we were granted life for a purpose and each one is needed to accomplish a mission that no other can.
Ever since we stood at Sinai, Torah became each one's personal inheritance. We embody Torah and with every mitzvah we do, in every loving, kind, compassionate, honest and fair interaction, be it at home or in business, we make Torah ours and share our G-d-given gift with others. But not only did it become our personal inheritance, it enabled our true oneness as a people. We achieved the highest level of unity at the time we received the Torah, and it is this unity that elicits G-d's protection today.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many have asked what can or should I do to make a difference?
In the times of the Baal Shem Tov, when there was a devastating plague, he was asked what could be done to elicit Heavenly mercy. The Baal Shem Tov advised collective participation in the writing of a Torah Scroll that ultimately saved the community. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, at different pivotal moments during his years of leadership strongly advocated the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah. The Rebbe addressed this need back in the 1970s, saying that being united in a Torah scroll, where every Jew is represented by a letter, is the vital energy for protection and creates a safer world. And just like one missing letter invalidates an entire Torah Scroll, every Jew is indispensable to the wholeness of our people.
There is no denying these are challenging times. It is well known that King Solomon used to wear a ring with three Jewish letters, ‘gimmel,’ ‘zayen’ and ‘yud.’ These three letters are an abbreviation of three words “Gam Zeh Yaavor” – this too shall pass. Although one of the smartest Jews, King Solomon needed to be reminded during his difficulties that “this too shall pass” and trust that we will overcome!
While scientists are still searching for a vaccine, Torah is our time-tested antidote. And as someone wisely added, our "booster shots" are Shabbat, Yom Tov, prayer, tzedakah, tefillin, and Torah study. We, at Chabad of the Berkshires, are providing candles for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and free mezuzot to affix on doorposts for extra safeguard. If anyone would like to purchase a letter in the "United for Protection Sefer Torah" that is now globally being written, don't hesitate to contact us. United, we can break through all barriers!
While the world speaks of a "new normal," our cry has always been, as expressed in our High Holiday liturgy, "Chadesh Yameinu K'Kedem - Renew our days as of old." Let's not underestimate our capabilities. Every single individual is empowered, through every single positive action, to bring back those golden days. We yearn to be together in Jerusalem with the arrival of Mashiach to lead us, hand-in-hand with no further social distancing, back to where we all belong!
Rabbi Levi Volovik is co-director of Chabad of the Berkshires in Pittsfield.