There is a two-thousand-year-old story in the Talmud (Kiddushin 29b) that describes how a mazik, a destructive force, took over the study hall of Rabbi Abayeh. This mazik was jeopardizing the well-being of his students, harming them when they would walk in. Rabbi Abayeh was not able to remove the mazik and protect his students. Rabbi Yaakov bar Acha, a righteous, spiritual man, traveled a great distance to Rabbi Abayeh’s study hall to see what was going on. Upon learning that he was coming, Rabbi Abayeh instructed the people of his town not to offer hospitality to Rabbi Yaakov. Rabbi Abayeh hoped that he would have no choice but to lodge in the study hall. Perhaps, Rabbi Yaakov’s righteousness and spirituality would diminish the power of the mazik.
Indeed, Rabbi Yaakov had to lodge in the study hall. When he entered, the mazik approached him, appearing as a seven-headed serpent. Rabbi Yaakov slowly and calmly began to pray before the serpent. As he did so, the rabbi bowed his head and, in turn, one of the heads fell off of the serpent. When this happened, Rabbi Yaakov slowly and calmly continued to pray, again bowing his head and, again, another head of the serpent fell off. Rabbi Yaakov didn’t stop praying and bowing his head until the seventh head of the serpent fell off and the mazik was no more. While he attributed the demise of the serpent to a miracle from God, it was Rabbi Yaakov’s slow and calm actions that eliminated the danger from the study hall and enabled the students to return safely.
On Monday morning, Broward County begins to reopen. Some have asked what this means for Ramat Shalom. As you know, several weeks ago, we temporarily shut down our sanctuary, schools and office
buildings and moved everything online as we all wrestled with Covid-19, our 21st century mazik. As we enter this new phase of reopening, we have much to learn from Rabbi Yaakov and how he made certain that the study hall was safe for the students to return to.
The seven-headed serpent that Rabbi Yaakov battled is a symbol of a serious, multilayered crisis that was plaguing the ancient Jewish community. An effective response was one that confronted each head, each layer, each issue not with drama, not with fear, but with slow and calm action. For Rabbi Yaakov, this action was prayer, part of a spiritual system that was created and embraced by respected community leaders far and wide. When prayer led to the elimination of one aspect of the mazik (one head), Yaakov did not run outside and celebrate victory. He kept going, again, slowly and calmly, until he eliminated as many dangerous aspects of the mazik as possible.
As we confront the many challenges that Covid-19 presents us with at Ramat Shalom, we’re committed to doing so along with a group of wonderful medical professionals who have stepped forward to guide us. We’re indebted to these doctors and nurses who, along with several attorneys and local, state and national government officials/agencies, are working with us to understand and enforce best practices when it comes to combatting Covid-19. Our synagogue leadership speaks daily about how we will move forward as a community. We’re doing so – slowly and calmly.
Just like the mazik that Rabbi Yaakov had to battle, the challenges of Covid-19 are many. As a synagogue, we have and will continue to face these challenges head on, doing everything possible to eliminate these challenges before we fully reopen our congregation.
Moving slowly and calmly, we have been working diligently to put plans in place that we hope will enable us to safely open our Early Childhood Summer Camp and welcome a small group of students back to our campus in June. We’re also in the very, very early stages of exploring how to best reopen our sanctuary for services. While we want to see each of you face to face, there are many issues we must and will address before we do so. Please know, we’re working hard to bring us all back together and we’re doing so slowly and calmly to ensure that we when the time is right, we can gather together safely and with tremendous joy!

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