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Social Nearness

Friday, 27 March, 2020 - 10:18 am

Social Nearness

“It’s strange,” someone told me this week. “I’m staying home and practicing social distancing. Yet, in a sense, I feel closer to people than I have before. Suddenly, I find myself genuinely concerned about others, inquiring about their well-being like I actually mean it and venturing out of my home not for my own pleasure, but simply to help others. When I call people on the phone, I feel like I really am listening to them.”

We are living through unique and testing times. Each one of us is making sacrifices. Some sacrifices are forced upon us. Others we choose to make.

I may not choose it, but my employer reduced my hours. I may not choose it, but I am unable to attend school or sporting events. I may not choose it, but I must eat at home, rather than restaurants.

I am not forced to, but I choose to wash my hands more carefully and more frequently. I may not be forced to, but I gave away some surgical masks to the local hospital. I may not be forced to, but I spent 30 minutes reciting Psalms for people I never met.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us into certain new realities – and sacrifices. It has also allowed us to discover our own sacrifices. As we sacrifice more and more, I cannot help but wonder whether this posture of sacrificing will outlive the current pandemic.

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In this week’s parsha, Vayikra, we read all about sacrifices – the Biblical type. We learn about animal sacrifices, bird sacrifices and meal offerings, of various sorts. In Hebrew the word for sacrifice isקרבן  korban. It comes from the meaning of קרוב karov, close.

As we have discovered in recent weeks, by sacrificing you are actually coming closer. By giving away your hard-earned animal as a sacrifice to G-d, you become closer to G-d. By offering your hard-earned toilet paper to your neighbor, you become closer to your neighbor. By offering your precious time to wrap tefillin or light Shabbat candles, you become closer to Hashem and to your own soul.

Sacrificing makes us into better and more wholesome people. It also brings us closer to each other, our Creator – and to ourselves.

Interestingly, when the Torah discusses sacrifices it begins talking about voluntary sacrifices. Only afterwards does it tell us about obligatory sacrifices.

Perhaps, the message from the Torah is that when it comes to sacrifices, we should not wait for situations that force our hands. We must seek out opportunities to sacrifice for our fellows and our Creator.

If one thing survives from this terrible pandemic, let’s hope that it’s our degree of sacrifice. Let’s commit to willingly sacrifice for others and for Hashem even when we are not forced.

And, with Hashem’s help, we will never need to be forced again.

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