Rabbi Resnick’s “Virtual” Drash on Parashat Parah (3/13/20)

On Friday, March 13, CBI made the difficult decision to close the building to communal prayer in response to COVID-19 and the desire to implement “social distancing” in our community. That evening, Rabbi Paul Resnick and Cantor Wallach led on online abbreviated “service” with some Torah, praying and singing and a time to connect before Shabbat. Here are Rabbi Resnick’s brief remarks to the “virtual” CBI community.

Happy Friday the 13th. Though there is not a lot to be happy about as we live through some very challenging times. We are living with a plague — a mageyfa – in the truest sense of the word.

However, the eternal optimist that I am, this also gives us a unique opportunity to look to our closest family and friends, and to look inwards to ourselves in a way that we have never done so in the past.

I do not recall a time in my lifetime that synagogue after synagogue, school after school, institution after institution has closed their doors of their buildings. (Of course last night at Shoprite it was more crowded than ever before — I had to wait for a shopping cart!)

This is truly unprecedented. We are all reacting differently. Some of us are scared. Some of us will feel secluded. Some of us will retreat. Some of us think that this will pass shortly. For most of us we will go through ups and downs.

Of course, we might be in this situation for a while. We can only take it day by day.

As a kehillah, a holy community, we could try to rise to the challenge and I pray and I hope that when we look back at this it will just be one of those memories that we have in our bank of memories. Perhaps, we will recall the extra time we got to spend with our families or the time we got to read or write.

Today, and next week and for the foreseeable future, let’s try to get something good out of this crisis. Let’s be careful. Let’s wash our hands. And let’s do that often.

This Shabbat we read the interesting and unique extra reading for this week’s parasha. We read Parshat Parah. In fact, we are taught by our Halachic codes that we can read this at home. We can read it without a minyan!

Numbers 19:1-22 is what we read. It is the extra reading assigned to tomorrow’s reading in a lead up to Pesach. Yes, Pesach is coming up in a few weeks, but we can hold off on that for a while. I digress.

Let’s focus on today and tomorrow and the next day and take it day to day.

I want to share a teaching that I learned this week from my former camper, Rabbi Jeffrey Fox. He teaches us the following, with some of my own additions:

The obligation to read Parashat Parah is at least as strong (if not stronger and older) than Torah reading every Shabbat. This is a very powerful thought based on age old teachings.

The custom used to be that this special parshiyot replaced the regular weekly Torah reading. Can you imagine that? That would mean a very short reading tomorrow!

Our shul, like so many others, is closed. But this reading can and should still be read at home from a Chumash. Again, Numbers 19:1-22.

There are several possible messages from this reading. One is that of the parah adumah, the red heifer. There are aspects of Torah — and therefore aspects of life — that are difficult, and sometimes impossible to understand. Notice the word Rabbi Fox uses: Impossible.

We just cannot understand everything. This is a challenge for so many of us in 2020, because when we do not know something, we can just Google it or ask Siri. There is no such thing as not knowing or not understanding.

But Rabbi Fox says this parah adumah, the red heifer, is indeed one such concept. Some encounter the divine in that mystery, while for others the unknown brings anxiety. For some it is reassuring; for some it is the opposite. As my mom used to say, if we were all the same, life would be boring.

My hope and prayer is that we all be blessed this Shabbat. In Rabbi Fox’s words, that we do not understand everything and that is OK. We can try to find God in the arafel (the clouds that occlude our vision). That we might not understand what is happening now and certainly do not understand the why behind this. But we connect with the Kadosh Baruch Hu — God — and may we have a Shabbat Shalom with the ones we care about most.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Resnick