In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tzav, we read, “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.” Two years ago, COVID came and devastated our entire world. After the Purim celebration in 2020, we closed up our building and began broadcasting services over Zoom. It seems strange to imagine, but at the time, few people had heard of Zoom and most had NO IDEA how to make it work.
Week after week we gathered remotely. The neir tamid – the eternal light continued to burn alone in our darkened sanctuary as we lit candles in our homes and the light of our computer screens illuminated our faces. We couldn’t hear one another sing, but we could see each person’s face even more than when physically together and the light of our community did not sputter for even a moment. We kept it burning – in fact attendance at online services was double what it had been in person.
We gathered to learn, to socialize, and to pray, we held meetings and celebrations. We mourned together. All of the work that made our community sacred continued from afar. Now, in the process of reopening and re-visioning who we are in a (G-d willing) post-pandemic world, we must think of ways to keep dual fires burning – to help us feel one community when some of us continue to attend online and others in person.
One of the many names for G-d is “HaMakom” – this word translates to “the Place.” It’s an odd name for the Holy One, for a Being that is beyond definition and limitation. But “place” is more than just a geographical location. A place is a space which can contain something within. A place – The Place contains our spiritual connection. G-d is in any place where we choose to look. Spirituality and community visited us these past two years through our screens and now we can also experience it again in person. Hamakom – the place where we experience G-d matters less than the effort to engage in the experience – in whatever place you are – emotionally or physically.
May we always find the space and Place to keep the perpetual fires of our community alight and bright. Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Sally Neff