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  • Writer's pictureAyelet HaShachar

Closeness and community

The following Dvar Torah was written by Donny Janks for Parshat Vayikra, 27 March 2020.


I once heard someone say that you can’t be the only Jew in the village. So much of our practice and culture is inseparably about other people. Traditionally, we pray in a minyan, and so many mitzvot are about people other than ourselves: our parents, the poor, animals. Even the Shema calls out to all of the people of Israel, not to any one Jew. To put it simply, being Jewish by yourself is hard - which makes this whole coronavirus situation a bit of a bother.


Last week, the Ayelet HaShachar team met (via Zoom, of course) to discuss what it means to be a small community in these strange times. We had made the decision to not congregate, and for the first time in three years had taken an unscheduled week off from our weekly Kabbalat Shabbat services. Jewish communities all over the world have responded in different ways, but it’s not obvious to us how we’d translate the experience of us all singing together in a room to this new separate isolation. Let’s keep that in mind while we talk a bit about this week’s parsha.


This week, we begin the book of Vayikra (or Leviticus) with God calling to Moses and telling him various laws for korbanot (sacrifices) in the Mishkan. There are sacrifices for peace, atonement of sins, and relief of guilt. It’s a parsha full of esoteric practical instruction, the type which has specifically lost its relevance today considering our lack of Temple and collective distaste for worship via burnt offerings. However like all good Torah interpretation, etymology gives us some extra layers of meaning. Yes, we translate קרבן or korban as sacrifice, but the word shares a root (ק-ב-נ) with karov, meaning ‘close’ and l’karev, meaning to ‘approach’ or ‘bring near’.


Before the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews were an agricultural people. Our festivals revolved around harvests and seasons, and the holiest times of the year were those in which we came together from across the land to offer our korbanot at the Temple. A korban wasn’t just a sacrifice to God for atonement or wellbeing (as we read in this week’s parsha), but a reason to come physically and spiritually nearer to the Jewish people. For the Jews of old, it was likely inconceivable that spiritual elevation and duty could not be synonymous with physical closeness.


And so here we are, in March 2020. It’s a time when physical closeness is objectively dangerous, and our Jewish communities are scrambling to figure out what connection can mean when we’re barely venturing past our front doors. If there was still a Temple to which we still brought korbanot, it’s not a stretch to think that we’d be cancelling the Pesach and Shavuot pilgrimages. Thousands of Jews congregating indoors to burn crops and livestock would definitely violate the rules about 4 metres square per person, even if some were hairdressers and personal trainers.


You might have heard the phrase “physically distant but socially connected” or some variation - a comforting reinvention of the ‘social distancing’ sentiment. I find myself personally comforted by the idea. We are all in this separately, together. When the Ayelet HaShachar team had our aforementioned Zoom meeting, one idea persisted: we want to create opportunities for our community to feel connected while we’re not meeting in person. This week, we compiled a playlist of our Shabbat songs for everyone to enjoy, and we’ll be bringing you more content for Shabbat and Pesach soon. We’ve also made our siddur publically available online (link below), for anyone who wants to run a Kabbalat Shabbat service for the people in their home. It warms my heart to imagine the people I normally see every Friday evening singing Yedid Nefesh or Hine Ze Bah with their families and housemates instead. In lieu of being physically karov, we can still find spiritual closeness if we look for it. So much of Judaism is about ritual and closeness - pandemic or not, I’ll still be lighting candles this evening with the people around me, and I’ll be thinking of you all too.


So please, sing some Shabbat songs, seek out the special moments in all of this madness, and go wash your hands. Shabbat shalom.


You can access our siddur, playlist and other resources at our website: https://ayeletsydney.wixsite.com/website/resources





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