Thursday, May 28, 2020

A Different Kind of Shavuos

Shavuos 2020 (Chabad)
Shavuos celebrates Matan Torah – God’s gift to the Jewish people - and ultimately to all of humanity. It is customary for many Jews to stay up all night studying the Torah in a Shul or Beis HaMedrash. That is not happening for anyone this year. But for those who manage to stay up at home tonight, there might actually be Neitz (sunrise) Minyan for them. I will not be attending it.

Observant Jews take the laws of the Torah seriously, and try to follow them as scrupulously as possible. Not that we always succeed. But that we try.

Perhaps one of the most important laws of the Torah is the requirement to do what’s necessary to stay alive and healthy. V’Chai Bahem. We are told to live by those laws. Not die by them. Making this particular law one that overrides other Torah laws.

I am going to be Machmir (stringent). I would prefer to be Mekil (lenient) and am a bit jealous of those who are.  But I have chosen to observe this Mitzvah in its more stringent form because of its relative importance to other Mitzvos.

So I will once again be Davening at Beis Tzvi. Which it might interest people to know, is an egalitarian house of prayer. There will in fact be an equal number of men and women in attendance. Actually it will only be one man and one woman. I will be the ‘Shaliach Tzibur’ (Chazan) and my wife will be the ‘Tzibur’(congregation).

(Tzvi is my Hebrew name. Beis Tzvi is my house.) Sadly, though, there will not be the requisite 10 people required for a Minyan. So that what is really happening in my house is that we will be Davening B’Yichidus – each of us as individuals and not really as a Tzibur.

But we both try and make it close to a Shul experience as we can. We both dress in our Shabbos finest –  the way we would for Shul. I stand at a Shtender (lectern) and face East – ending each segment out loud the way a Shaliach Tzibur would. But… there is no Borchu, no Kaddish, no Kedusha, and no Kriyas HaTorah or Aliyos.  However, I ‘Lein’ out of a Chumash and recite the HafTorah. All in order to make the experience as realistic as possible. 

This is the way it’s been since the very beginning of the pandemic restrictions that shut down every Shul in Chicago. And for the time being it will stay that way - for me. But that is no longer the way it will be for everybody.

As I noted a short while ago, Agudah wants to be Machmir on Tefillah b’Tzibur. Which in my view means being Mekil in Pikuach Nefesh.

Not that they are being careless. Quite the contrary. They are demanding strict adherence to the rules they have set in place on pain of expulsion if violated. But they want desperately to be able to say to say Borchu; hear Kaddish; and say ‘Yehei Shmeh Rabbah’. So even though they are being careful to minimize the dangers, they are nevertheless being Mekil on Pikuach Nefesh and Machir on Tefillah b’Tzibur.  That is the way I see it although I’m sure they would not put it that way.

That being said, I admit to being jealous of the people I saw going to Shul this morning. Bnei Ruven, the Shul I had been attending for Shachris daily for decades, is one of those being Machmir on Tefillah b’Tzibur. Watching the people I had been Davening Shachris with day after day until last March made me feel like I should be doing that too. I actually felt bad that I Davened at home this morning instead of joining them. 

But at the same time I know it was the right thing to do – and keep doing until conditions improve enough so that all Shuls will be comfortable opening up. Sadly that is not the case yet. Which is why the CRC is being Machmir on Pikuach Nefesh instead of Tefillah b’Tzibur.

I suppose the temptation to Daven with a Minyan on Shavuos was too great to resist for some rabbis. So as long as there is a way to do it safely they are going to do it. What the cost of that might be on the health of those attending remains to be seen. Having reached 100,000 deaths due to a disease that is contagious before it is symptomatic is nothing to sneeze at. (No pun intended). 

With the improved weather hitting us all across the nation, people are out in droves. Seemingly oblivious to the disease. The chances of increased community spread is quite real. The chances that one of the attendees at a Minyan may have encountered one of those irresponsible people who may have had  the virus albeit unbeknownst to them - have now increased. My sincere hope and prayer is that I am being overly cautious and that everyone will be fine.  But for me - I’d still rather be overly cautious than face an increased chance that I may end up dead or seriously ill.

At the same time, it will be difficult seeing people going to Shul tomorrow while my  wife and I stay home. But I will grin and bear it.