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God is Close Among Us

In this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, while we celebrated our freedom and danced along the shores of the sea, it was coupled with fear and doubt about what was to come. The question of “will God continue to sustain us?” In Exodus 17:3, after we crossed to freedom, we started to complain: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” We questioned “is God close among us or not?”

We are in constant need of signs, of proof that things are going to be okay. We constantly check the news for new COVID treatments, down trending numbers of cases, and increased vaccinations among us. The question of God’s nearness, Gods’ light and God’s wholeness may come into question, especially if we have experienced a loss during this pandemic.

Graveside in-person funerals during the pandemic have been heart breaking for families. There is space between loved ones in a way that we have never experienced. There are hugs that need to be given that linger in fingertips. There are hands to hold that nervously shake. What do we do with the prescribed social distance that is not aligned with our need to comfort and console? How do we fulfill the circle of mourning within such unnatural limitations?

Judaism has many traditions that turn the spiritual into the physical, in order for us to feel the Divine presence. The tradition of “K’riya” that we perform at the beginning of a funeral is one of those traditions. The act of “tearing a garment” links itself back to the Torah with Reuben, who tore his clothes when he discovered that Joseph had disappeared from the pit. Jacob also tore his clothes after the loss of his son. This is a completely physical act where we can transfer our grief onto a symbol of brokenness. It is one opportunity we have to rend, to tear, to rip away at what has been lost. The ribbon will never be whole again, and it is worn over our hearts to show others that we have loss.

It is upon us after the moment of tearing to say a blessing because even in the most challenging of times we must answer affirmatively-God is close among us, in family, friendship, and community.

If I could make a k’riya ribbon for this pandemic that we could all wear, I would. We could wear it together to remember that if we could have embraced and held hands, we would have. Even if we cannot answer the immediate call of our loved ones, love remains unbroken. After tearing the ribbon, we would say, Blessed Are You, Adonai our God, Who Remains Close among Us.

Stay healthy, stay strong, and know that my heart is with you!