It’s pretty difficult not to write a blogpost about COVID-19, as it’s on basically everyone’s minds right now. I want to share with you a really great moment of community that occurred last week during Talmud and Tea, a weekly Talmud class I’ve been leading this semester through my work as a Hillel Student Leader which moved to ZOOM like so many events have.
At first, I thought Talmud and Tea was not going to continue online; I initially wondered, who would want to study Talmud in their spare time when the entire world seems to be in flux? Yet, I got messages from friends asking me to teach; they wanted some continuity and Torah wisdom in their lives right now. I was honoured, and proceeded to ask our Springboard Fellow, Ariel to set up a Zoom from Hillel. I was worried no one would show up, and yet I was surprised once again – not only were there people, but in fact more people than who usually attend the class in person, and as well as peoples’ partners and parents joined in!
We split up into chevrutot (learning pairs) and learned. We studied the Talmud Tractate Shabbat, about the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son hiding in a cave from the persecution of the Romans. In the cave, there was a carob tree, fresh water spring, and Shimon bar Yochai and his son studied Torah all day. When they were able to initially leave the cave, Shimon bar Yochai’s mentality regarding the outside world became so destructive that his eyes burned everything he looked at. God was so unhappy with this unhealthy approach that he sent Shimon bar Yochai and his son back in the cave. The cave can be a place of ascetism as it was initially, or a place to reflect and find peace with the world. The second time they emerged, they found balance and found ways to bring holiness into the regular world, instead of destroying it. Being in the cave can be harmful, and it was up to Shimon bar Yochai and his son to take a step back and reevaluate their respective approaches. The cave was an opportunity for them to zoom out from their daily lives and assess from afar. Only when the cave was used productively and insightfully, were they able to emerge.
This too connects with our experience right now. We might not be fleeing Roman persecution and we may not be burning things with our eyes, but we are also in a place where we get to decide what mentality to approach our caves with and which resources to seek out.
These were just some of the ideas bounced back and forth in the Zoom call. I felt really blessed to be a part of this community where people voluntarily chose to make their cave a space for Torah, but a Torah that is relevant to our current experiences. I hope we can have many more moments of togetherness in the near future.