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Congregation Beth HaTephila

An Engaging, Inclusive, Reform Congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains


Social Distancing in Effect. No gatherings at the Temple.
Click here for more info on the Temple's Covid-19 status And the Rabbi's Public Service Message.

Between You and Me - May 2021

The Talmud recounts that when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai got into trouble with the Roman authorities of his day, he and his son hid in a cave to escape execution. A spring of water and a carob tree miraculously appeared near the cave to nourish their bodies. Every day, the two would bury themselves up to their necks in sand, immersing themselves in study, emerging only to pray three times a day. After 12 years, Elijah the prophet appeared outside their cave and wondered aloud about who would inform Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai that the order of execution had been cancelled. At that moment, Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar stepped out of the cave and gazed upon their fellow human beings for the first time in over a decade. Tragically, they only chose to see how little their neighbors seemed to care about Torah study or prayer. The pair were filled with such outrage and judgment that every place their eyes were directed was immediately burned. A Divine voice called out to them, “Have you come out of the cave to destroy my world? Back into your cave!”

The twist in this story is that the isolation of living in a cave had a profound effect on Shimon and Elazar, despite all the hours spent in prayer and Torah study, magical food and water notwithstanding. When God permits the two to reemerge from the cave 12 additional months later, it is because Rabbi Shimon found his way to seeing his world with very different eyes, eyes open to the broken places he might heal instead of hurt.

Like Shimon and Elazar, those of us fortunate enough to endure this pandemic healthy in body, found ways to adapt to our isolation. As effective as we may have been at survival, this tale suggests it would be naïve to think we can emerge from such a profound experience unscathed. As we stand on the verge of coming out of our caves, this story underscores the truth that reentering will take an equal measure of skill and intention as surviving the pandemic did. We don’t know yet the depth of trauma from which we may need to heal ourselves. And we certainly don’t know how our family, friends, neighbors and community are faring on the inside either. How easily our gaze, our words, our actions might burn those around us. We will most definitely need eyes that see through the lens of gentle compassion, patience and understanding, first and foremost for ourselves.

Mental health experts are saying anxiousness is normal under these circumstances. Instead of jumping in with two feet, they are counseling us to take baby steps back into the world. Being curious about our bandwidth for socialization, even as we feel excitement that life may be returning to “normal” is a wise endeavor. Remembering that not everyone you encounter feels the way you do about life returning to the way it was before COVID is prudent. And most importantly, giving yourself both the permission to grieve what was lost and the space to be pleasantly surprised by how things and people have changed is essential.

At the end of a silent retreat, we are instructed to expect it will take an equal length of time to integrate our experience. If one is on retreat for a month, it takes at least a month for one to rediscover balance and equilibrium. Perhaps we would be wise to approach the next 14 months with the same mindset.

I’m filled with both anticipation and trepidation on the journey ahead of us. I look forward to forging forward together.

Sat, May 8 2021 26 Iyar 5781