Rebuilding, this is something we Jews have had to do for centuries. Time and time again, we’ve faced dangerous forces that have relentlessly targeted us for destruction. And time and time again, despite unspeakable loss, we’ve miraculously managed to pick up the pieces and reconstruct something incredible.

I spent this past week trying to figure out how, when the time is right, to reopen our sanctuary, to reconfigure it to ensure social distancing, to share prayers when the experts say that prayer books should not be used, to incorporate song into our services when science suggests that we should refrain from singing in public and to keep the Torah accessible, touchable to all. Trying to reimagine what it will look and feel like when we all gather together again at Ramat Shalom has been, at times, overwhelming. What’s gotten me through and pushed me forward has been our people’s relentless ability to recreate. If our ancestors could do it after facing forces much more destructive than Covid-19, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will do this.

What lies at the core of our ability to rebuild? How have we managed to do it in a way that has not just let us survive, but thrive?

Next week, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot which commemorates the anniversary of our receiving the Torah from God at Mt. Sinai. The fact that Shavuot doesn’t have a festive meal like Passover or a cool, outdoor hut like Sukkot keeps the holiday from getting the attention it deserves in the liberal Jewish world. The winding down of the school year, final exams, proms, graduations and Memorial Day don’t help either. Well, this year, as we all know, is different. We have more time on our hands. And this works in Shavuot’s favor. This year, more of us will pay attention to Shavuot and, in doing so, discover why the Jewish people are masters at recreating ourselves.

Shavuot commemorates the most important moment in Jewish history, the experience that defined us as a Jewish nation: the moment we received the rules that taught us how to behave as a people and as individuals. Without the Torah, we would never have been able to come together and function as a community and grow into the incredible civilization that we are today. What’s interesting is that while the Torah is indeed filled with rules, Kabbalah, teaches us that the Torah is much more than a book of rules. It’s actually the blueprint of creation – the tool that God used to create us and the world in which we live. Once God created the world, God decided to give the Torah away. But, when this time came, God didn’t want the Torah to stop being a creative tool – a tool that could be used to generate new and incredible things. And, so, God gave the Torah to us – not simply to give us rules to live by, but to use as an instrument of real change.

The Talmud teaches us that when Moses went to receive the Torah from God, the angels tried to take it from him. They said that the wisdom of the Torah wouldn’t be appreciated by humans because we have a tendency to stray from the good and embrace the not-so-good. Moses, however, explained that this is exactly why the Torah must be given to us. The Torah shouldn’t simply be studied. It should inspire new ideas. Angels, we’re taught, are holy beings and, as such, have no need to change or grow. They’re perfect the way they are. We humans, however, are far from perfect. We struggle on a regular basis with difficult choices and living a life of meaning and purpose. The values, teachings and stories in the Torah are intended to push us to reach higher – to do good. When we allow the Torah to challenge our choices, improve our character and find new ways to bring spirituality into our lives, we become new people, better people. In doing so, we recreate ourselves and, in turn, prove that the Torah remains a blueprint for our ongoing creation.

So even without having to face dangerous forces that have targeted us over the centuries, the Torah calls upon us to recreate ourselves. In doing so, it’s prepared us for the challenges we face today. It holds the lessons that, when combined with the guidance offered by the medical experts, will enable us to gather together safely.  None of us knows what exactly it will look and feel like when it’s time to return to our sanctuary. But, I can tell you this. Given our track record, when we return, we’ll do it in a way that is powerful and, at the center of this return, will be our Torah, accessible and touchable in both old and new ways.

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