parasha

Quarantine, Loneliness, and Unconditional Love

Vayakhel Pekudei 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In the Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei, we read about the establishment of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the temporary temple that accompanied the Jewish nation during its wanderings until the permanent temple was established on the Temple Mount.

The Mishkan and the Temple were the nation’s spiritual center.  This was expressed by the nation camping around it in the desert, and by all legal and halachic (Jewish law) decisions being made in the court adjacent to the Temple in Jerusalem.  After the Temple was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon, it became the only place where sacrifices were permissible, and the nation’s only legitimate spiritual center.

The parasha describing the Mishkan’s establishment is called Vayakhel, from the word for gathering and union. This is to teach us that a spiritual center which is not based on unity has no value or right to exist.  Our sages note that one of the reasons leading to the destruction of the Temple was baseless hatred.  Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the chief rabbi of the Land of Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, wrote, “If we were destroyed, and the world was destroyed along with us, because of baseless hatred, we will be rebuilt, and the world will be rebuilt along with us, by unconditional love” (Orot Hakodesh 3, pg. 324).  Seemingly, these words are particularly relevant to the unusual situation we have found ourselves in these past few weeks.

The entire world has recently entered a state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus.  Millions of people are in quarantine, hundreds of thousands have fallen ill, and sadly, thousands have died of this virus.

These are difficult times.  We all send wishes for a speedy and complete recovery to all those who are sick, and condolences to the bereaved families.  Our hearts are with you!

It is imperative that we all behave responsibly in accordance to the directions we are getting from the authorities, each country following its health experts’ guidance. No one has the privilege to behave irresponsibly because he can harm others.  This is in addition to the Jewish value “and you shall watch yourselves very well” (Deuteronomy 4, 15).

According to Jewish tradition, times of distress like the one we are in now are times for introspection.  The individual and society are called upon to think about what they should repair.  It seems that this virus that put millions of people into quarantine is hinting to us that there are two areas we should try to strengthen: the value of family, and the phenomenon of loneliness.

Families going into quarantine together – parents with their children – offers an opportunity to repair what we sometimes can’t manage to implement.  These days can be days of quality time, in which we, the parents, can listen to our children, talk to them, laugh, tell stories – do everything we always want to do but can’t find time for.  This is a time for renewing and reinvigorating our frayed family relationships.

And, as we said, it’s a time for introspection, for thinking about whether we may have slightly neglected our spirit, unity, and community, paying exaggerated attention to individualism and “being in the now”.  This coerced ingathering of family reminds us where the true source of strength lies, what values are truly important to us, what we are really proud of – not career or financial success – but values of spirit, faith, morality, and family.

Furthermore, the coronavirus that put many of us into quarantine reminds us that there are people who are always socially isolated.  Do we notice those people who suffer from chronic loneliness, who return to an empty home night after night, those who have no family, or no parents; those who are at home waiting for someone to smile at them, to hear their voice?

They are lonely.  Do we remember these lonely people? Do we do enough for them?

Loneliness can be excruciating, but it is also easy to help – with a smile, a good word, attention, a short phone call. If each of us remembers one person and makes sure to send a message, to call occasionally, maybe invite them to join you on a walk, or for a meal, or anything else that is shared – it might actually save their life.

How can we heed that call? How can we make sure people understand the horrible feeling of loneliness? How can someone who does not suffer from loneliness understand someone who does?

The coronavirus and the quarantine that has been imposed on us give us a bit of a taste of what loneliness feels like.  We suddenly miss the social encounters we are accustomed to.  Now we understand how much our work colleagues are part of our lives. Now we understand how much society contributes to our lives, and what a wonderful ability we have to lessen someone else’s loneliness!

Maybe now is the time to call out to everyone: Adopt another person, one lonely person, and make him or her happy!

Each and every one of us can make this world happier, one in which more people walk around with smiles on their faces.  If we increase unconditional love, in the merit of this, our prayers will be heard and we will overcome this threatening virus and get through these trying times in peace, health, and happiness.

 

All Torah weekly sections