Posts Tagged 'Covid'

Needing as a Blessing: Connecting,Covid-19, and Metzorah

In the beginning of Genesis, we read of the curses that God meted out to Adam, Eve, and the snake upon their violating the prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam needs to work the land to get food. Eve will have pain in childbirth. The snake received the different punishment. There we read, “and the dust of the earth you shall eat all the days of your life.”( Genesis 3:14 ) The Hassidic master Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa asked why this punishment at all. Now the snake, by virtue of this curse, would be able to subside on dirt. This being the case, the snake would never have to work to obtain sustenance, as dirt is everywhere! This seems like more of a reward than a punishment.

Juxtaposed the snake, when a person is having difficulty sustaining themselves and will turn to God for help. While people have to endure hardship in order to achieve certain goals, they can turn to God to ask for assistance. Rav Simcha Bunim argues that God wants us to ask for help when we need it. The process of asking for help itself helps us to develop a bond between us and God. One should feel that he or she is asking a friend, someone who is close, caring, and willing to help. God wants a close bond to exist between us. In this way prayer is a way of creating and strengthening this bond.

Ironically, the snake is fortunate in that it has all of his needs provided for. It has nothing to ask of God and nothing for which to request God’s assistance. The curse for the snake is no reason to develop a relationship with God.

Woman finds giant snake - YouTube

I was thinking about this when reading Metzorah, this week’s Torah reading. Here we learn about a ton of maladies. Fear of COVID-19 has sparked a vigilance for various symptoms. Before this we have never been so attuned to all of the ailments, impurities, fevers and rashes in our lives. Spending so much time stuck at home has made us much more aware of what is and not coming into the house. Strangely Metzorah is more relevant then ever. There we read:

When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Leviticus 14:35)

There is an interesting way in which we need to go to a priest to explore how to make meaning of the plague. There is an assumption that there must be meaning behind the plague and we cannot claim to  know what it is. Therefore we say that there is “something like a plague has shown itself to me”, without certainty (see Rashi there). We must seek connection with another person to make meaning out of this event.

We see that this plague mandates that people reach out to make a connection with a priest. In the spirit of the Rav Simcha Bunim’s lesson on the curse of the snake being its disconnection from God, the blessing of Metzorah is the connection to people. Needing is a good thing. It is the foundation for growth and connection.

Covid-19 and all of its variants has been horrible. We recently passed 6 million deaths due to this disease. But in light of this Torah portion, we see that another curse of Covid-19 is the compliancy and comfort we have developed for social isolation. Like Rav Simcha Bunim, Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The question for us as we emerge from Covid-19 is if we will allow ourselves to express need, be vulnerable, and reach out to make human connections. That will surely be a blessing.

Protector of Israel: Painful Wake Up Call

This past weekend I found myself going back to my favorite earworm by the Shira Choir. I dare you to listen to Im HaShem LoYivneh Bayit without singing it all week.

The lyrics come from two verse in Psalms. There we read:

אם-השם, לא-יבנה בית–    שוא עמלו בוניו בו
אם-השם לא-ישמור-עיר,    שוא שקד שומר הנה לא-ינום, ולא יישן–    שומר, ישראל

If the Lord did not build the house, they labor in vain that they build it
If the Lord did not keep the city, the watchman are awake in vain (Psalm 127:1) Behold, God the protector of Israel does not rest or sleep  (Pslam 121:4)

Just when we thought that we might be turning a corner with Covid or enough time has passed since the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, we hear the news of the hostage situation in a synagogue in Texas. This happening in 2022 is unsettling. I am sure like many of you this weekend was one of sleeplessness.

We might claim that this ending without the hostages being physically injured is sign that the Protector not resting or sleeping. And at the same time we must ask ourselves why we are always in harms way. What about their mental wellbeing? Who is protecting our mental, emotional, spiritual, social health? I would prefer it if the Jewish people were not the snooze button on God’s alarm clock getting smacked every time God needed to wake up. Throughout history we have had more than our share of these painful wake up calls.

Police respond to a hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16 in Colleyville, Texas.

It is hard in these moments not feeling exposed. All people need to feel safe in their bodies, identities, and homes. If we do not feel the presence of the Protector we need community and human connection to watch over us. Alas due to Covid, this has not been happening in fulfilling ways. Covid is not the only ailment. Hate is also a global pandemic. We need to acknowledge the events of the weekend and find other ways to connect, form community, and look after each other.

Oscillating History: The Design of Jewish History

In VaEra, this week’s Torah portion, we read about God’s plan to have Moshe liberate the Israelite slaves from Egypt. This theme is echoed in the the haftorah in Ezekiel (28:25-29:21). It begins with a mention of the ingathering of the exiles. There we read:

When I gather in the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they have been scattered, and I have been sanctified through them in the eyes of the nations, then shall they dwell on their land that I gave to My servant, to Yaakov. And they shall dwell upon it securely…

Ezekiel 28:25-26

This seems to be a recitation of the story of Yosef rejoining his brothers as we saw at the end of Genesis. In this context we an interesting pattern of Jewish history emerges. We seem to be going back and forth between dispersal, isolation, and sufferings and ingathering and feeling at home. While this might come to explain the elation around the realization of this prophetic vision in the founding of the State of Israel, it is not what is interesting to me at this moment.

When looking at this pattern from a distance we can see a similar outline of human-centered design. This is an approach to problem-solving commonly used in design and management frameworks that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution.

An Introduction to Human-centered Design (HCD) Process

Just as Jewish history oscillates between our diaspora and homecoming, this design process asks us to move back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking. Together we experience the highest of highs because we are in touch with the user-experience of real pain points.

I was think about this as many of us have had to move back into 2020 Covid isolation. This could be seen as sad or needed Wintering that will eventually yield to the creative boons in spring. Maybe this is just my being hopeful or a belief in the Human-centered creative process.

Original Pods

As we emerge from Covid I have been thinking about the long term psychological impact of what did to survive this medical ordeal. One of the more interesting thing we did was to pod. The practice of podding involves one or more households getting together in-person regularly at each other’s homes for small educational groups with agreed-upon measures to try and manage COVID-19 exposure risks. Pods are mostly considered for elementary-age children to preserve social benefits and mitigate risk.

I was thinking about podding this week when reading the end of Vayeitzei, this week’s Torah portion. Yaakov is on his way to reconnect with his estranged brother Esav. There we read: When he saw them, Yaakov said, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Machanayim.”  (Genesis 32:2)

The commentators note that the correct grammatical form of multiple camps is machanot, rather than machanayim, and wonder what we can learn from this differing conjugation in the text. Rashi explains that Yaakov uses the word machanayim to signify two different types of camps, one outside the land of Israel and one within it. Others believe it references a “pair of connected camps.”

This foreshadows what we will see in next week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Yaakov was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape.

Genesis 32:8-9

So why two camps? In many ways Yaakov was trying to move forward and mitigate his exposure to risk in confronting his brother. In the end his fear of Esav was misguided. It turned out there was no physical risks. It is interesting to see how this division into two camps might have seeded the division between his children and eventually the tribes. Similar to the long term impact of Covid- while podding might save us physically, we need to keep our eye on the our psychological wellbeing.


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