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Soulful Infection

Friday, 13 March, 2020 - 7:22 am

As COVID-19 takes over our daily routines, decision-making and social life, we are faced with lots of stress. To be certain, much of the stress-inducing realities are warranted. At the end of the day, we should be following sound medical advice. I’m not a medical professional and will urge you to adhere to doctors’ orders.

Once we figure out what that medical advice is, the new question, then, is not how to behave. Rather, the question is how to feel. I may indeed need to wash my hands triple the amount of times I have until now. But, how should I feel about it? Frustrated? Anxious? Worried? Angry?

What should my attitude be to missed lifecycle events, to canceled plans, to social distancing, to more careful interactions?

Of course, this is all a reminder that Hashem is – always – in charge. We feel vulnerable now. Truthfully, however, we are always vulnerable and always in Hashem’s hands.

Faith in Hashem helps us navigate our days. But, how can I navigate the endless rituals that have taken over my life?

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In this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, Moshe is told by G-d to collect a half shekel from every Jew. This universal tax of silver would be utilized for the holy Tabernacle.

The Midrash states that G-d showed Moshe a sort of coin of fire weighing half a shekel, and He said to him, “Like this one they shall give.”

Why did Hashem need to show Moshe a coin of fire? What was missing from the obvious instruction that needed further clarification and guidance?

*

In this week’s parsha we also learn of a monumental error of the Jewish people, namely the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf. The half shekel was an atonement for this terrible transgression of idolatry.

What Moshe wondered was, ‘How can a simple coin of silver – a symbolic act – achieve forgiveness for a wildly misguided undertaking? The Jews had abandoned G-d. And, they would make up for it by paying the equivalent of a few dollars tax?!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe puts it this way:

Moshe was perplexed by the notion that the soul can be redeemed from such a severe sin by a mere piece of silver. Silver and soul are polar opposites: the soul epitomizes the spiritual and silver epitomizes earthliness.   Since the whole reason the soul needs to be redeemed is because it has succumbed to earthliness, how can too much earthliness be cured by more earthliness?

So, G-d showed him a coin of fire.

A coin given without feeling is indeed cold and unremarkable. But a coin given with the warmth and enthusiasm of the soul's essence is fire—live spirituality—and can atone for the gravest sin. This was the coin of fire shown to Moshe.

The message is clear. An act without intention remains an earthly act. In order to achieve heavenly status, we need to invest devotion and fire into our actions. When we infuse our behavior with meaning and purpose, we transform mere silver into coins of fire.

G-d could have asked the Jewish people to offer fire. But, no. He wanted silver.

Hashem desires that our mundane, often rote, activities be uplifted. This is the transformation G-d is looking for. This is the kavanah we need to invest in our mitzvot. This is the passion that makes our deeds surge.

*

As we confront changes to our lifestyle, habits and rituals, we should take note from the Torah’s timeless lessons.

Washing our hands so many more times a day should not be the cause for alarm and anxiety (those are not helpful attitudes). But, it should be the cause for healthy mindfulness. It helps us focus our attention to containing the spread of germs – something we otherwise may tend to forget.

Likewise, it ought to inspire us to focus more on the actions we engage in. It compels us to search for the ‘fire’ inside our actions.

And, as we are forced to spend more time with family and loved ones, let’s not allow it to become a fretful-laden indulgence in kvetching, bickering and incessant information overload. Rather, let’s seize the opportunity to ‘fire up’ our family time. Instead of bemoaning the situation, cherish the extra time and focus as you unhurriedly kindle the Shabbat candles tonight. Indulge in the additional time and care as you don tefillin. Spend more thoughtful time on the email you are composing, rather than simply hitting the send button.  Take the moment to lead by example, and study Torah in-depth with your loved ones.

Let us pray that the only infection from this coronavirus is a fiery passion and an added awareness that my behavior needs to be infused with meaning and mindfulness.

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