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Seeing Another's Face at an Uncertain Time

03/12/2020 11:54:35 PM


News about COVID-19 continues to change even as I write, and will probably evolve even further by the time you read this. This indeed is a time of great uncertainty and concern.  We might well be worried about our own health or that of loved ones, the potential impact on daily life or special plans and events, as well as the effect on our livelihoods. Our congregation touches hundreds of lives each week, through dozens of activities, all of which are meaningful to those who participate.

However, our highest value is “Pikuach Nefesh”- the protection of human life. As such, our congregational leadership has been consulting daily with a team of experts, as to what changes we need to make and at what pace. This afternoon, we are reassessing further changes, and we are holding our regular Shabbat Shalom email for this week so that we can send a comprehensive update on Friday. In the interim, I want to take a moment to reflect on the spiritual impact of these times. 

Our Torah portion, Ki Tissa, appreciates the challenges and the anxiety that can come from uncertainty. The Israelites had just experienced an incredibly positive moment in the giving of the Torah. Moses went up to Mount Sinai to continue the process of revelation for 40 days. When the Israelites saw that “Moses was delayed,” they grew uncertain as to when or whether he would return; they grew anxious and went astray, making the golden calf. It’s critical to note that Moses’ absence was not the final straw. As long as the people knew that Moses up on the mountain and scheduled to return, all was fine. It was on the very last day, when they became unsure whether he was coming back, that they acted out. Being unable to control God or Moses, they made an idol that they could control.

Indeed, uncertainty is one of the more stressful things that we can face. We can react to uncertainty by seeking to create control in unhealthy ways, by panicking (ask anyone who has visited the toilet paper aisle recently) or by ignoring our problems and making them worse. Often when I speak to people who are facing a challenging medical situation, they are relieved when they finally get the diagnosis, even if it is not a good one. 

Unfortunately, in the coming weeks, we will reach greater certainty; we will see schools and institutions close, the cancellation of many events and activities. In the meanwhile, the thing that we can control is ourselves. We can follow the precautions that are known to protect ourselves and the vulnerable who are so dear to us, and we can continue to be kind to each other.

The other potential challenge that we face in the months ahead is disconnection, not seeing the face of others. While up on the mountain, Moses asks to see God’s face and God refuses. Then when Moses finally returns, there is the same sense of disconnection. His face glows with God’s reflected radiance and he must wear a mask so that the Israelites can no longer see his face. However, in both cases, the absence of face is not a total absence; God, even without showing His face, creates a new covenant. The Israelites find comfort in God’s presence, even though it is not as close as it had been.

Over the next few months, our face-to-face interactions, in the larger world, and in the synagogue, will be dramatically reduced. There will be times when we may only be allowed to gather in small groups, if at all. There may be times when the people we do see are wearing masks. We might feel lonely and isolated. That makes it all the more important that we do what we can to show our faces to each other. Streaming and two-way video interactions are not the same as being together, but they can allow us a kind of closeness than even God or Moses didn’t always have. Even a phone call or text makes a difference. As always if you are in distress, reach  out to me at or to Rabbi K at, and we will do our best to show our face to you, even if it is not in person. 

We are working rapidly to make classes and activities available online and create support systems for those in our community who are most deeply affected. We are living in a time of uncertainty, and a time when faces might be hidden. What is certain is that even in the direst times, we have the ability to show our faces to each other and support each other.


Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784