As conversations begin to turn to what ‘opening things up’ will look like in the weeks and months to come, I find myself with a new anxiety around the question: “Have we learned our lesson yet, being in this little ‘time-out’ indoors? And not even in a punitive way, I’m thinking of the term yeshiva, which is a traditional word for a Jewish Talmud/Torah school that comes from the Hebrew word shev, or ‘sit.’ In yeshiva you sit, and don’t go out into the world, to learn. You learn indoors, with Torah.
So I’m wondering, have we learned the lessons we need yet, while being inside, before we consider going back out into the world?
I know this will be one of those periods in history when we’ll look back and have our “Where were you when?” conversations. “Where were you quarantined during Covid-19?” Just like, “Where were you on 9/11?” Or other culturally defining moments like “Where were you when Obama was elected? When same-sex marriage was legalized across all 50 states? Or for the results of the 2016 election?
This pandemic of Covid-19 is a culturally defining moment. This pandemic will transform our culture. It is global. It is beyond politics. To imagine a world before it will be the same as trying to remember a world before the internet, or before Facebook. The prudent question is: What kind of transformation will it be, and how can we – you – enact your will upon it? So it’s not just about what happened TO you, but what you did to respond to the situation.
When I think about that question, I anticipate another headline that I hope to avoid: “Global Warming Passes the Point of no Return.” “Where were you when the global temperature rose by 3 degrees?”
It’s an unsettling thought, a scary thought, but a thought I had this week long enough for me to forget about Covid-19 for a second. And that amount of time that it took me, or you, to float from that headline back to our current crisis, is the critical window you have to make an intentional choice about what to do next. And we are more well poised than ever before to create new patterns, and change our global trajectory for two reasons:
- One: Air pollution and waste are down from a lack of air travel and the consequences of sheltering in place, creating a notably unprecedented – and cautiously optimistic data point for carbon emissions. The decrease in human activity around the globe is also providing snapshots of wildlife populating beaches, waterways, and National Parks.
- And Two: we have a heightened awareness of connectivity. We are practicing and creating behaviors of collective moral responsibility. Individually we are making choices for how to be social with each other, and as a society we are figuring out how to build new systems to account for the need of collective responsibility. How I choose to act affects my neighbor, my friends, my family, and you. My neighbor’s neighbor’s, neighbor…is you, and we’re aware of this truth in a new way now.
The Shema: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad — Hear O Israel Adonai is our God, Adonai is One! Is a prayer with this message; a six word headline before several more paragraphs we tend to identify as The V’ahavta, which expands on its core idea.
And reading on we learn about the consequences of taking that message to heart and acting on it — or not.
Specifically in the second paragraph of the shema that starts: v’hayah im sh’moah tish’mu — IF we pay close attention — to the commandments and teachings of God and this tradition then the world in terms of climate cycles and seasons, will be all good. And if not, and we don’t pay close attention then God will keep the waters up in the heavens and the earth from yielding produce.
The first six words tells us what we need to come back to again and again– that we are all interconnected. V’haya im shemoa tishm’u– that second paragraph, tells us what happens if we forget it.
During the Mishkan Rise and Shine kids service (also for grown-up’s) we sing the Shema by taking our echad, and connecting it to the other echad’s around us to show we’re all connected. In person we touch our fingers together and now over Zoom we put our fingers up to the camera. It’s adorable, and also just the essence of the Shema: we’re all connected. And I wonder, in this touching teachable moment, is that enough?
Something about what we teach right now needs to change to make sure the next chapter of our society looks different than what it looked like before.
In Jewish history, it was the Haskalah — the Jewish Enlightenment, the Great Jewish Realization – that changed the shape of the Jewish landscape – forever. The Haskalah was an intellectual movement in 18th Century Europe. You may be unwittingly familiar with some of the consequences of the Haskallah, with movements like Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Judaism. Can you imagine living in a world before these movements? Much of the modern ideological Jewish world – what we believe and practice – emerged from the Haskalakh about 250 years ago, as Jewish religious and secular communities examined old lessons and evolved our tradition to fit into their new world. This pandemic moment has the same potential to become a period of revelation v’hayah im sh’moah tish’mu — IF we pay close attention like them, and examine old lessons in our tradition with our new awareness.
To relearn the Shema as a prayer that reaffirms our commitment to each other and our treatment of the planet.
To relearn Global Warming beyond a human-produced pollution problem to focusing on the much larger culprit of Global Warming as a livestock-produced problem in the meat and dairy industries. Not detached from humans of course, meat consumption is one of the largest contributors to climate change. And this past week Trump issued an executive order to force meat plants to continue producing meat as essential workers, putting many lives at risk.
This pandemic has unwittingly forced us to make choices that reflect the “Shema Consciousness” of our interconnectedness. Each time we take a moment to put on a mask before we go into public spaces, that choice reflects “Shema Consciousness.”
And a moment is really all I’m talking about here. A pause to shift an action that is new, uncomfortable, unsettling, and affirms our responsibility to the future and what we know and can’t predict about this virus.
In the window of time it takes you to click ‘purchase’ on your instacart order, each of us has an opportunity to ask ourselves if this choice reflects “Shema Consciousness” — putting the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the planet – first?
It is, in fact, the same moment that exists before you walk outside with or without a mask,an exercise of the same muscles.
And I’ll be transparent here… I’m a carnivore. And I’m hitting pause, and rethinking how much meat I need, when I need it, and what the consequences are every time I put on a mask and go outside to walk to the store to buy it. It’s real, It’s big, and I’m suggesting we all do this kind of cheshbon-ha’nefesh, personal stock taking of what we need to change in our lives because of what we know and can predict about climate change right now.
Tomos Roberts, a 26 year old spoken word poet and filmmaker from London, is the first artist I’ve experienced who inspired me to believe that this new world to come is not just in our hands but within our grasp. His piece is called: The Great Realization. It reimagines a post-pandemic world written in the form of a bed-time story being read to a child. You can find the video online of course, but I want to share an excerpt with you:
But then, in 2020, a new virus came our way.
The governments reacted and told us all to hide away.
But while we all were hidden, amidst the fear, and all the while,
The people dusted off their instincts. They remembered how to smile.
They started clapping to say thank you, and calling up their mums.
And while the car keys gathered dust they would look forward to their runs.
And with the skies less full of voyagers, the earth began to breathe.
The beaches bore new wildlife that scuttled off into the seas.
Some people started dancing, some were singing, some were baking.
We’d grown so used to bad news, but some good news was in the making.
There’s this notion that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. That this intentional pause in the flow of our week is a little taste of heaven. Why? Because we pause for 25 hours, let go of last week, and imagine a better next week; To consider what we might want to change about ourselves, and the world. This Shabbat, I want to invite you to use Tomos’ model as a place from which to build your taste of the world to come.
The covid-19 pandemic has forced us into a heightened awareness of how we are connected and morally responsible to each other – and the planet. The wisdom of our tradition is there, aching to be reimagined and retaught again for the sake of our children. And the time is now.
What will be your “Great Realization” this shabbat? Shabbat Shalom.