LESSONS FOR FUTURE BROUGHT HOME BY CORONAVIRUS
By RABBI AARON I. REICHEL, ESQ.
A combination of a recent Daf Yomee (the study of the same page of the Talmud around the world), this past week’s sedra (the public recitation of the same portion of the Torah around the world), and the just-completed World Zionist Congress vote and brouhaha should teach us lessons while contemplating and maybe even overcoming the coronavirus. As we follow the rules to “disconnect” with each other to minimize the spread of this terribly contagious disease, all three of these institutions have the potential to unite all Jews more closely than ever before.
We all know of the terrible “sin” King David committed (as defined as such by his high standards) in sending the husband of a woman he craved to the frontlines of the battlefield, for which the king later atoned. But it merely increased the chances of one person dying in place of another. Jews around the world recently read about the Talmud’s recounting of a counting (sic) involving a far worse sin by King David as to its consequences, though seemingly innocuous on its face. The King conducted a census of the population of his kingdom, but instead of counting indirectly by means of half shekels representing people, as discussed in this past week’s Torah reading, King David ordered the counting of the people directly. As a result, we are told, a plague took place, causing 100 people to die each day. The Jewish leadership was informed that the decree would be annulled were a new mitzvah to be created, whereupon a requirement was created for the recitation of 100 brachot each day, and the mass deaths ended.
Were it only so simple for ending the sicknesses and deaths caused by the coronavirus! Actually, it is not so simple, and not merely because most Jews presumably fall far short of reciting the 100 blessings each day, let alone earning and meriting heavenly blessings in “return,” without G-d’s merciful grading system. Another crises of another census has just taken place this past week as well:
The future of the Jewish people hangs in the balance another way as well. In this same past week, voting ended for the 38th World Zionist Congress, at which close to a billion dollars are to be allocated by the winners of the elections for participants at the Congress. The slates range from right wing religious nationalists to “progressives,” some of whom may advocate more openly for the rights of Palestinians who would like to throw the Jewish Israelis into the sea than for the rights of defenseless little children of families headed by saintly fathers who spend virtually all their time studying the Torah and doing good deeds. The problem is that at least one rabbi made claims against the followers of a slate he opposed that were allegedly categorized as denigrating and disparaging, to put it mildly (which is not the way it was put), against the rules of the voting process, which could have jeopardized the viability of the slate of which the rabbi was a member, at great cost to the people he represented, as well as to the people from other slates with similar views and values.
Nobody should blame the coronavirus on a king who was coronated thousands of years ago or on a rabbi who was passionate in his electioneering thousands of minutes ago, but we can all learn a few lessons from contemplating recent events, including those just described. (1) It is important to follow rules set forth by G-d as well as rules set forth by duly authorized non-authoritarian human beings. (2) Those who violate the rules, even with the best of intentions, may cause great calamities to themselves and the people they care for. (3) When advocating for one’s views, one should be as persuasive as possible, but nevertheless take care to avoid unnecessarily denigrating directly and with specificity those with whom one disagrees. President Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” has wide applications across the political spectrum and across the religious spectrum. (4) The ongoing rules that are being set forth to counter the coronavirus are truly unprecedented in our social, vocational, and religious lives, and are being violated by many people who refuse to defer to the rulings of their political and religious leaders, but they must be adhered to if we will be able to merit continued positive responses to the blessings we recite each day for G-d to continue to bestow his grace over humanity in general, and the Chosen People in particular.
Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq., Kew Gardens, NY
By RABBI RAYMOND APPLE
Q. May the cremated ashes of a deceased person be buried in a Jewish cemetery?
A. Jewish law requires that the remains of a deceased person be reverently buried in the earth. Orthodox rabbis will therefore not officiate at, nor will a Chevra Kadisha handle arrangements for, a cremation. If a person expresses a wish to be cremated, such a wish, even by a dying person, should not be fulfilled, and the next of kin of a deceased person is personally responsible for the transgression involved in arranging a cremation.
We oppose cremation for the following reasons:
• Only by burial in the earth is the religious duty of laying a person’s remains to rest duly fulfilled.
• It is forbidden to destroy or mutilate a human body, even after death.
• Historically cremation was a pagan practice; Judaism always stressed burial in the earth.
• Cremation is regarded as denying the belief in the resurrection of the dead.
There was a stage when rabbinic authorities in Britain condoned the burial of cremated ashes. Rabbi Dr H Rabinowicz, in his "A Guide to Life: Jewish Laws and Customs of Mourning", quotes a letter by Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, who held office from 1845-1890:
"I beg to state that whilst there does not exist any precept prohibiting the interment in a Jewish cemetery of the ashes of a person who has already been cremated, our law is decidedly and emphatically opposed to the practice of cremation."
Chief Rabbi Herman Adler, Nathan Marcus Adler’s son and his successor in office, stated as quoted by Rabbi Rabinowicz:
"There does not exist any precept prohibiting the interment in a Jewish cemetery of the ashes of a person who has already been cremated, an opinion supported by other eminent rabbis. We accordingly permit such a burial. At the same time we earnestly beg you not to construe this permission into a sanction of the practice of cremation."
Rabbi Rabinowicz also quotes a by-law of the Burial Society of the United Synagogue of London: "The society shall not make any arrangement whatever for cremation. Where cremation is nevertheless to take place a service may be held at the house prior to the removal of the body, and if the ashes be encoffined then interment may take place at a Cemetery of the United Synagogue and the burial service shall be conducted there at the time of the interment."
In a letter sent to me on 13 October, 1988, the London Beth Din confirmed that the Adlers and their successors were "strongly opposed to cremation. Any concessions they have made were obviously necessitated by the particular circumstances then prevailing. Contemporary codifiers, whilst recording the London rabbis’ ruling, clearly indicate that it has not been generally accepted (cf. Grennwald, 'Kol Bo Al Avelut', Ch. 1, Section 3, para. 21, pages 53-4 and notes thereon).
"The London Beth Din, whenever it has been consulted by communities or individuals, has consistently followed the vast majority of the most outstanding rabbinic authorities of our times and has ruled that the mitzvah of burial ('K’vurat HaMet') applied only to a human body whereas the ashes of those who renounce fundamental beliefs of our faith by choosing cremation ought not to be buried in consecrated ground.
"It follows that so as not to encourage such a serious violation of our sacred traditions, ministers and a Chevra Kadisha ought not to be involved in any way in services in connection with such a deceased."
RECLAIMING THE SOUL OF SHABBAT IN QUARANTINE
By RABBI JAY GOLDMINTZ
One of the most striking things that I have heard from students and families about the first Shabbat under quarantine has been the extent to which so many people created a much “more spiritual Shabbat” than the one they were used to. This phenomenon points to a number of lessons that we can use going forward to significantly improve our family life, our commitment to Shabbat and our relationship with G[-]d, lessons that we will hopefully be able to make a part of our lives long after the quarantine is over.
One of the biggest challenges of religious life is the extent to which ritual can become routine and thus be taken for granted. When it comes to Shabbat, there can be a tendency to “fall into” Shabbat, by which I mean that it can become a lifestyle rather than a life choice. We light candles, make kiddush, eat a more elaborate meal and go to shul, but these things can become more a manifestation of the way we spend our Friday nights and Saturdays rather than about the way we connect to G[-]d or one another on Shabbat. The quarantine reawakened within many of us the notion that Shabbat is a special day that needs to be embraced rather than just lived.
Routine is broken when we become aware, when we are forced to think about what we are doing. Time and again I have heard from people about the special things they did that they don’t normally do, a number of which will be listed below. But what they all have in common is that people broke their routine, avoided the habitual, even if it meant just changing their state of mind, becoming more purposeful and aware of the things they do on Shabbat every week. In short, they thought about it. The quarantine reminded many of us that Shabbat is something that can be appreciated more if we raise our awareness, if we tap into new ways of looking at the day than we might otherwise.
The good things in life, the meaningful things, generally don’t just happen – we help create them. Rav Soloveitchik used to say that kedushah, holiness, requires preparation and that you cannot have holiness without it. We prepare for important guests, we prepare for important events in our lives, and we thus stand to gain an enormous amount when we prepare for Shabbat, not only physically, but spiritually as well. That’s not something that many of our children do weekly; they, and we, tend to just “do” Shabbos. When the quarantine prevented us from going to shul, or enabling our kids to have play dates, or allowing any of us to leave the house to socialize with other friends and family and community, it forced us to anticipate how we were going to spend the day, to plan how we would make it special this week despite the limitations. In so doing, we inadvertently added to the kedushah of the day for our kids and ourselves by preparing for it.
Most of us are fortunate enough to love our families and to cherish the time we spend with them. This is clearly a value in its own right, but in the context of religious development, research tells us that one of the portals to transcendence are the others in our lives. When we can get out of our own heads, when we can connect to others then we can feel something that may be called spirituality. Making room for others enables us to actually feel better about ourselves and gives us insight into our place in the universe. Knowing that our families were the only people in the world that we could interact with for those 25 hours, forced us to focus on and appreciate those relationships in ways we might not normally consider. That’s why it should come as no surprise that when kids were asked to talk about what made that Shabbat more spiritual than others, they most often pointed to the quality time they spent with family.
In a related vein, one of the biggest challenges to our lives today is the lack of stillness. Without going on a tirade about technology, suffice it to say that it seems to be much more difficult to be alone with oneself than ever before, especially for younger people. We are addicted to our devices and even on Shabbat when we do not use them, it seems like boredom can be a bigger challenge than ever. And yet, stillness lies at the heart of talking to G[-]d, having the presence to engage with the Presence. This past Shabbat apparently enabled many to slow down, to take some extra time to daven and reflect, about G[-]d, about my relationship with Him, and about my relationship with Shabbat. The quarantine enabled many of us to recall that Shabbat is an island in time where we can find solitude and solace.
Herewith are some suggestions for keeping the effort going primarily based on the experiences of my students this past week:
1. Empower everyone to have a hand in the preparations for Shabbat. Whatever the traditional roles of the household are, be it the cooking, the cleaning, the preparation of Shabbos clocks or the dining room table, these days everyone can take part in something new. Preparation creates what Rav Soloveitchik called “erev-Shabbos Jews.” The more we prepare, the more we will appreciate.
2. Do kabbalat Shabbat together. It’s easier and quicker to daven on your own. It’s easier to let your young child or your oldest teen off the hook by not insisting they join in. But last week, people made a point of saying Kabbalat Shabbat together or, rather, singing together. One family set up a shtender and mechitzah in their home to replicate shul. Many families just sang together. Others went outside to the back porch or backyard and sang together there, only to hear and subsequently join in (vocally) with neighbors who were doing the same. A sense of community was created, and by all accounts, a sense of transcendence and kedushah.
3. Sing Zemirot together. “We don’t usually take the time,” said one student. “We’re all usually off someplace else,” said another. “We sang slow songs for seudat shlishit,which we don’t normally have.” But that week lots of people sang their hearts out at dinner and at lunch and in the late afternoon in ways that they normally do not. Time stood still in a way that it is supposed to do every Shabbat. We can learn to hold onto it again.
4. Have some meaningful conversations at the table. Some students were pleased that there was no company. “It was just us, and that doesn’t happen very often.” “We were all able to enjoy each other’s company without rushing to somewhere because we had nowhere else to be.” Shabbat for some, it seems, has come to suffer the same character as a weekday. Research says that family meals are a protective agent against bad habits and dangerous experimentation. They are also a powerful place to define and deepen family values and family stories. Families talked about ethical dilemmas, about the parshah and, of course, about current events. Ideally, the talk should be as Jewishly rooted as possible, but it need not only be so. The important thing is to talk. It might not come as naturally for some, so what you want to talk about is worth thinking about in advance.
5. Learn Torah together. A number of families had a formal leining/Torah reading in the morning that a parent or child led, just to emulate the shul experience. And some interspersed divrei Torah or questions between each aliyah. Some people picked up books or sefarim that they don’t normally look at it, while others sat and learned the parashah or something else together. Of course, this should be an enjoyable experience not a tension-filled one. If it is the latter, then it would be best to be avoided altogether. Here again, for a parent or a child who is less secure in their learning, it may be worth preparing in advance or at least thinking about what and how much to learn. There are parshah sites galore on the Internet and for younger children, anything that has a fun game or quiz element to it can make it more interesting (but not super-competitive please).
6. Go for a walk together, play games together, spend more time together rather than just retreating to one’s room or favorite couch. Social distancing means staying away from people outside your family. But families who took walks together found themselves getting closer, just enjoying one another’s company. Research shows that families who are involved in religiously timed activities this way (even if there is nothing intrinsically “religious” about going for a walk or playing board games), gain something called “spiritual capital,” an unarticulated but palpable environment that children and adults find meaningful and which binds them together in ways that strengthen religious connection.
Consider that we may be in for these kinds of Shabbatot longer than anticipated and so the challenge and the obligation will be on each of us to create Shabbat. As one student wrote to me: “Because there were no built-in obligations or shiurim we could go to, I think we realized that we really had to put in the effort to create a meaningful Shabbat and I find that when you yourselves are the ones creating the spirituality and the unity, it is much more rewarding. We sang out Havdalah and I thought about how this Shabbat is something that I will never forget.”
THE GREAT SHABBAT
By RABBI STEVEN BERG
Dear Aish Family,
Here we are at the end of another surreal week. No one on the planet has ever experienced anything like this. The talk of plague ravaging the world seems medieval. The only thing that everyone can agree upon is that we were all caught off guard and the world is scrambling to unify to fight an unseen enemy as best that it can.
I spoke to my good friend and mentor, South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein about his thoughts regarding the crisis. He is the architect of the Shabbos Project which brought Shabbos to so many Jews around the world. This week is Shabbos HaGadol (Great Shabbos) which is the traditional Shabbos before Passover celebrated around the world. Rabbi Goldstein said, "There must be some way for us to unify the Jewish world; give me a few days."
Forty-eight hours later, Rabbi Goldstein came back to me with a document signed by eleven Chief Rabbis listing three ways for us to come together.
1) Call or message each other with words of support before Shabbos
2) Pray for each other just before candle lighting
3) Keep this Shabbos together.
In response to this unprecedented call for Jewish unity surrounding Shabbos, Aish HaTorah’s Project Inspire has put together an amazing pre-Shabbos event online called “Bring Shabbos Home.” Tonight at 6:15pm EST we will all welcome Shabbos together with Charlie Harary, Ruchie Koval and Moshe Storch. More in depth information can be found here.
Why are we doing this? What is it about Shabbos that can unify all of our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world. Since the creation of the world, every seventh day we Jews have laughed, cried, prayed, rejoiced, celebrated on Shabbos. It is our weekly anniversary with our Creator. We love Him and He loves us. Let us all come together in the world's time of need to cling to Him and beseech His mercy. I want to wish all of you a healthy and inspirational Shabbos.
Rabbi Steven Berg, CEO, Aish Global
SHAVUA TOV! WESTWOOD KEHILLA FAMILY
By RABBI AVI STEWART
I hope everyone had a relaxing and restorative Shabbos. This past week has been intense and exhausting on so many different levels, that Shabbos came as a more than welcome break. We spent time together as a family. We went on walks. We learned and davened and sang.
Alas, Shabbos is over and we are back to “real life.” Someone told me that they are having a hard time tight now. My advice was simple. “Turn off the TV.” For many of us it is being connected to the media and the 24/6 news cycle that actually increases our anxiety and stress levels.
This past week was a transitionary period. Transitions can be tough. Transitions can be exhausting. Getting used to a new reality is challenging. But we are a resilient group and we will use Corona as an opportunity to develop and express greatness.
Everyone has challenges. Some people grow and develop, others wilt under pressure. But, we do not really have a choice, do we? We’ve got to be resilient.
What are the keys to resilience?
One of the ideas I’ve come across in the literature is basic and fundamental, and it is an idea that I have fond helpful in my own life.
We’ve all got triggers. And we have practiced routines. We tend to follow a script. I offer one as a simple illustration of this precept.
Thursday night, Shaindy asked me to go to Ralphs to pick up eggs. I got to Ralphs at 10:00pm. Yes, they were closed. So, I drove to CVS. They were out of eggs. Then, I went to 7-11. They were out of eggs too. So, I went home.
That’s potentially a trigger. Ralph’s untimely closure can trigger emotions [frustration/anger], thoughts [negative thoughts] and it can even trigger behavior [reckless driving].
Rather than be triggered, take a deep breath [or three deep breaths]. Breathe in for three seconds, hold it for three seconds and let it go for three seconds. At the point where you’ve gained control over that space between stimulus and response, ask yourself a simple question. “Will this be helpful or harmful? Will this help me get to where I need to get or will this hinder my growth?”
Making the right choice is resilience. Resilience may be the key for us to develop and express greatness.
I bless us all with the strength to be resilient! And we use these strange times we are experiencing as a crucible of strength and greatness.
Rabbi Avi Stewart, Los Angeles, CA
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