A New Mishkan in a New Desert: Coronavirus and Community

This is the first Shabbat since, idk, the Black Plague (??!!) when Jews all around the world are not gathering together in synagogue or for Shabbos meals (hopefully), but are engaging in the massive collective effort of staying-home.

It’s remarkable that this week’s Torah portion is devoted to detailing another massive collective effort- when wandering in the desert, we all pooled our resources to build the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that would serve as our spiritual core throughout those rough years. וַיָּבֹ֕אוּ כָּל־אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂא֣וֹ לִבּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ נָֽדְבָ֨ה רוּח֜וֹ אֹת֗וֹ- “everyone whose heart uplifted them came, everyone whose spirit inspired them to generosity” brought their own offering to support the work. The parsha laboriously details the different goods each Jew had to offer- silver and copper; wool, linen and goat hair for spinning; spice and oil for lighting and incense…

Ironically enough, this gigantic in-person work party holds up a poignant mirror to our own moment of social distancing. Now, as then, “everyone whose heart lifted them up to approach the work to do it” is taking action- setting up mutual aid networks; devising new ways to build virtual community; holding each other close, even and especially across distance; taking care of the home, and the inner work of the soul.

In this unprecedented time, we are building a new Mishkan in a new desert- each of us recommitting, in our own way, to the work of reaching out, showing up, reaffirming being-together, co-creating the collective spiritual anchor that will guide us through this tough time.

וִיהִ֚י נֹ֨עַם | אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ וּמַֽעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֖דֵינוּ כּֽוֹנְנָ֣ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ וּמַֽ֘עֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֜דֵ֗ינוּ כּֽוֹנְנֵֽהוּ: May the pleasantness of my Lord our G-d be upon us- may he establish our handiwork for us; our handiwork, may he establish!!

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