We continue with our study of Pirkei Avot, in keeping with the Jewish tradition of studying the morals and ethics of our fathers during the summer months.
In the first chapter of Avot we find that the great sage Shimon Hatzaddik tells us that the world stands on three things. These three things are so important, that in a certain sense, it is their performance by the Jewish people that sustains the world as we know it. These three things, Simon the Just tells us, are Torah, avodah, and gemillut chassadim. That is to say, the study of Torah, serving God through the act of prayer, and the performance of acts of loving-kindness, chesed, with our fellow Jews. These three values are so important, so central to our Jewish faith, that it is as if the entire world stands on the shoulders of our performance of these three things. While no one can argue the inherent value of these three mitzvot, nonetheless filling our lives and the fabric of our daily schedules with Torah, avodah, and gemillut chassadim is not always so easy. The study of Torah can be challenging, our intellect may struggle to comprehend some of the wisdom of the more complex areas of Talmudic law. In a world of cable television and high-speed internet, there are certainly any number of distractions competing for our attention that are able to draw us away from the study of Torah. Avodah, the act of tefilah, davening, is also an area that some may find challenging to integrate into their lives. It is certainly easier to sleep late than it is to set your alarm to get up early for minyan. Furthermore, even if an individual budgets their time to allow for daily prayer, it is still an ongoing challenge for even the most seasoned davener to attain even a minimal level of kavana throughout an entire prayer service. And on the subject of budgeting for time, even the most simple acts of gemillut chassadim may require us to sacrifice precious time from our days, not to mention the financial sacrifice that the performance of this value may occasionally entail.
Indeed, while we all agree that the world may stand on Torah, avoda, and gemillut chassadim, we also see that to build a life centered around these core values may not always be as easy as it seems.
All the more so in the year 2020. In the year when nothing is as it once was, and nothing seems normal, the challenges we may face in trying to build our lives around Torah, davening, and acts of chessed may seem insurmountable. Per state mandate, we are banned from entering our usual house of worship at JSS until at least September 9th. Menial tasks and errands that last year took only five minutes to perform may take several hours in today's social distancing climate. Economic uncertainty has certainly given pause to how we might relate to performing acts of chessed. And the constant, underlying fear of the unknown may greatly chip away at our ability to focus on our service of the Almighty during this time of crisis.
And yet, through it all, something remarkable has occurred in this community over the course of the past several months. We have not only allowed Shimon Hatzadik's three values into our lives, we have actually excelled at them. Torah: During a time period when meeting together for our usual Torah study sessions has become an impossibility, we have opened new avenues of study via Zoom and email. What a wonderful phenomenon it is, that individuals who- for various reasons- were previously unable to join us in person for Torah study, are now joining us virtually on a regular basis via Zoom and email. Avoda: While davening indoors may not currently be a viable option for our congregation, we have braved the summer heat to meet together for daily minyan outdoors, both at the JSS courtyard, as well as at the Allen family's backyard. Gemilut Chassadim: The myriad instances of our congregants' looking out for each other's safety and wellbeing during this difficult time is truly heartwarming. Through it all, we have succeeded in creating an environment of chessed, an environment wherein each and every community member is aware that his or her fellow is looking out for them, and will not let them falter during this period of crisis and pandemic.
Let us continue to build our lives around the three-part value system of Torah, avoda, and chessed, even during this time of crisis- or perhaps, particularly during this time of crisis.
Wishing you a month of health, happiness, and safety, Rabbi Peretz Robinson