We are about to welcome shabbat. Shabbat customs have four components: prayer (tefillah), study (limud), enjoyment (oneg), and rest (m'nuchah).
This weeks limud, Torah study, focuses on the first 5 chapters of Leviticus, regarding sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifice also means to bring close, and that's what Leviticus is about: bringing ourselves close to God.
To sacrifice is to offer something special to God, something meaningful, essential to our lives. God provided our ancestors with food for sustenance, and so they brought the best of their sustenance to thank God for God's gifts that sustain us. Thus they brought God closer into their lives.
Now we are also engaged in a time of sacrifice. The major lesson of the Torah is to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). By isolating ourselves we are choosing the gift of life, for ourselves, those we love, our neighbors and our world. We choose not only not to spread a potentially deadly disease, we also choose not to spread the disease so as to prevent overwhelming the resources needed to treat the disease.
We bring ourselves closer to God by thanking God for the blessings of life: food, shelter, clothing, air, water, and meaning. And we bring ourselves closer to God by preserving God's blessings, which sustain life, to our neighbors altruistically, without thanks.
Ironically, by distancing ourselves we are discovering how important closeness is in our lives. We discover how much those we love mean to us. We discover the meaningful role our friends play in our lives, in lifting us up in our sorrows. We discover neighbors we'd forgotten, suddenly home, exercising in the streets, sharing a common fate with us. Suddenly we are grateful for blessings we'd taken for granted, and the blessings we'd forgotten and forsaken in our lives. Suddenly we live simply, and no longer take life for granted as we confront a common, life threatening enemy.
And so let us give thanks for shabbat, for pause, for taking stock, for breathing in and out, for taking account of our lives, for being alive now, in this moment, in this hour, for this sacred day. May we come to appreciate all that has been given to us.
May we learn to share our blessings and our common humanity with God's image in the world: other human beings who now, more than ever we are blindingly aware, share our fate.
Praised are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this day. Shehecheyanu, v'kikeyemanu, v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.