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Parshas Bamidbar - Re-Opening Our World   27 Iyar 5780

06/12/20 13:00:54


Americans are tuned in every day and night waiting to find out when their locale will begin or continue to the next phase of opening for business, pleasure, and religious activity from Covid-19. It is a delicate balance of knowing when to start the integration of society while keeping the virus at bay and the incident rate low. Many people are frustrated with the slow process, some feeling it is not necessary while others feel it is too quick. I am not a scientist, but what Rabbis do is to search for precedent in forming opinions and practice. Perhaps the following excerpt from the official NASA website can shed some light on our current situation. Obviously, we are dealing with two completely different ideas, nevertheless the message may be the same.

Spacecraft re-entry is tricky business for several reasons. When an object enters the Earth's atmosphere, it experiences a few forces, including gravity and drag. Gravity will naturally pull an object back to earth. But gravity alone would cause the object to fall dangerously fast. Luckily, the Earth's atmosphere contains particles of air. As the object falls, it hits and rubs against these particles, creating friction. This friction causes the object to experience drag, or air resistance, which slows the object down to a safer entry speed. This friction is a mixed blessing, however. Although it causes drag, it also causes intense heat. Specifically, shuttles face intense temperatures of about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1649 degrees Celsius). Blunt-body design helps alleviate the heat problem. When an object – with a blunt-shaped surface facing down -- comes back to Earth, the blunt shape creates a shock wave in front of the vehicle. That shock wave keeps the heat at a distance from the object. At the same time, the blunt shape also slows the object's fall. The Apollo program, which moved several manned ships back and forth from space during the 1960s and 1970s, coated the command module with special ablative material that burned up upon re-entry, absorbing heat. We see the difficulty and complexity of something moving from one atmosphere to another. I believe our transition from stay-at-home command to exploration of malls, shops, restaurants, Shuls and the like is similar in nature. The devastating effects of a space shuttle upon its return from outer space to Earth travelling too fast or too slow will be catastrophic. The pace, speed, and exact entry point are crucial elements of a successful mission. This is the challenge we face while trying to return to our old atmosphere.

The Torah gives us this perspective from the namesake of the new Chumash we begin with this week in Bamidbar. The first Parsha is named as the book itself in the very first passuk. In Bamidbar 1:1 the Torah states: "וידבר ה אל משה במדבר סיני,, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai”. The Midbar, the desert, where the Torah was given teaches us many lessons from humility to the fact that anyone can embrace the Torah as a way of life. The word Midbar/desert can be understood in at least two ways. The first, is the general definition of a dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation. The second is two Hebrew words הדרכה והנהגה Guidance/training/direction and conduct/behavior. I would like to suggest an integration of these two different understandings of the term “Midbar/Desert. The Gemara Sanhedrin 8b explains through the passuk in Tehillim 47:4 that if we attain good guidance and conduct ourselves properly, then the desert will be a place where we can flourish despite its scarce resources. The Torah, given in the harshness of the desert in spite of its apparent shortcomings, demonstrates that one can become great in such an atmosphere. But, if we do not act properly, then it will be a desolate place of destruction where there can be no life.

Transitioning from one atmosphere to the next is not solely dependent upon each atmosphere but rather how we guide and maneuver from one to the next. All in all, people are people, everyone has his or her opinion and philosophy. We, as the Jewish people, can pray and ask Hashem to imbue the leadership, both secular and religious, to have the wisdom and insight in making the transition safe and healthy. Re-entering from the stay-at-home atmosphere to the spiritual atmosphere of Shul life should be a careful process - not too fast and not too slow. It needs to be carefully, perfectly timed under the best conditions.

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781