The influential Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” It’s true.
There seems to be a direct correlation between one’s ability to cope with the anxiety of life during a pandemic and one’s ability to help others. We learned this first from our elders. In the first week of self-isolation, we began “Call HaKavod,” an organized effort to check in with every congregant by making a personal phone call to hear how they are doing. We started with our oldest members first. Everyone appreciated the calls and to our delight, a number of people, well into their nineties, asked if they could join the team of volunteers to reach out to fellow congregants, too. They instinctively understood that volunteering in this way would be an antidote to their own worries.
Frankl also taught: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” How are we living in a Corona-world? Many are bored or lonely, or stretched by responsibilities of full-time parenting and work, or stressed by the inability to work, or feeling guilty because of their inability to visit with ageing parents, or sad about their inability to care for young grandchildren, or fearful about their own physical vulnerability. One congregant told me he envies the frontline workers because they have a job to do and they know they are helping. He has a deep desire to help but doesn’t know how. Helplessness can lead to hopelessness, and if Jewish history has taught us anything it has taught that we must never lose hope.
Therefore, I am pleased to announce the coming of Mitzvah Week, May 10 – 16, 2020. It will be a celebration of mitzvot — large and small – which congregants are already fulfilling day by day. It will also be a time to coordinate our mitzvah efforts and support one another in new initiatives of chesed, of care and kindness, of love and loyalty. Some mitzvot will be for one another, for fellow congregants or fellow Jews. Working with partner organizations, we will pursue other mitzvot for fellow Torontonians or fellow Canadians. With this week’s 50th Earth Day, we are reminded to fulfill mitzvot which provides care for the earth and all it contains.
The week of May 10 – 16 falls during the Counting of the Omer, the days which link Pesach to Shavuot. These are the days our ancestors marched from the shores of the Red Sea to the foot of Mount Sinai when our God-given freedom was given meaning and purpose through God-given Torah and mitzvot.
The week of May 10 – 16 includes Lag BaOmer, the thirty-third day of the Omer. According to legend Lag BaOmer is a joyful day because it marks the end of the plague which attacked Rabbi Akiva’s disciples in the 1st – 2nd century CE. I don’t pretend that COVID-19 will miraculously come to a screeching halt on Lag BaOmer this year, but I do believe in the power of mitzvot to slow the accompanying plagues of fear and hunger, loneliness and despair.
The Holy Blossom community is made up of creative, generous, and compassionate people. Let us channel these talents in the direction of those in need and in turn, discover uplift, meaning, and purpose.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.