This week’s parasha, Tzav, “Command” (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) begins,
ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: “Command (tzav) Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah (or law) of the burnt offering. The burnt offering should remain on the hearth atop the altar all night until the morning, while the fire of the altar is kept burning on it. … Fire is to be kept burning on the altar continually—it must not go out.”Leviticus 6:1-2 & 6
Later in Ki Tavo as Bnei Israel prepared to enter into the promised land, Moshe proclaimed,
“This day ADONAI your God is commanding you to do these statutes and ordinances—so you are to take care and do them with all your heart and with all your soul.Deuteronomy 26:16)
It has been said that the Torah is our handbook for daily life. However, learning to apply its rules to a constantly changing world takes quite a bit of effort and at times originality. New discoveries in science and medicine, new political realities, and even differing economic systems require new insights from our Torah. The ability to adjust or to adapt has always existed. Contrary to what we see in some communities, innovation is inherent to our tradition. Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern-day Israel, stressed that we must “renew the old and sanctify the new”.
In the Friday, April 3rd digital edition of The Times of Israel, correspondent Ben Harris writes,
The coronavirus pandemic has upended so many parts of life that it’s perhaps little surprise that it’s also having a significant impact in the field of Jewish law, or halacha. The sudden impossibility of once routine facets of observant Jewish life has generated a surge in questions never considered before — and modern technology means that Jews the world over are more able than ever to ask those questions and share their answers.
We are in an unprecedented time for religious observance and routine. As one browses the news, faith communities all over the world are trying to find ways to keep their communities together. Some are going against local health ministry regulations and continuing to meet as normal and in doing so, take the chance of infecting or being infected with COVID-19. Others have found creative ways to maintain their communal existence. Some are using various internet video-conferencing methods, others have set up drive-in type parking lots where everyone stays sequestered in their car while worship services are broadcast over loudspeakers. At least one Catholic community I read about offers drive-up confessionals as well as communion.
As Mr. Harris noted above, within Judaism, “The sudden impossibility of once routine facets of observant Jewish life has generated a surge in questions never considered before….” The sense of community remains at the very heart of Judaism and isolation and quarantine has the potential of eroding that heart. In response, there are live-streaming and video-conferencing prayer services going on daily, including Shabbat. There are numerous rabbis in Israel and around the world who have either encouraged or at least hesitantly allowed for both Shabbat evening meals as well as Passover to be shared with family over the Internet. This is not a complete change of halakhic norms, rather it is adjusting the ancient traditions to meet the specific needs that face us today. As Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo stated, “For too long, Halakha has been jailed in compartmentalized and awkward boxes. It is time to liberate it.” (Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Jewish Law as Rebellion. Jerusalem, Urim Publications, 2018, p35)
Remember the occurrence in Mark 2 when Yeshua interacted with the P’rushim (Pharisees) over allowed Sabbath activities. The end of the matter was Yeshua’s statement that “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat.” In no way was he speaking against keeping or honoring the Sabbath, rather he was trying to get the P’rushim as well as his talmidim, to understand that the Sabbath was Hashem’s gift to man – a time to fellowship and enjoy His presence as well as fellowship and enjoy the presence of others. That is why, at this juncture in time, we “break the Sabbath” by using our computers to meet together as communities, to encourage one another, to pray for one another, to open a window in a isolated room so others do not have to be alone during this pandemic.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.