Images of profound introspection and deeply connected community depict the vivid atmosphere of the Days of Awe (yamim hanoraim), that pack synagogues every fall. This year, for the first time in history, COVID-19 will give a completely different feel to the High Holidays because they will be conducted mainly through virtual platforms instead of in massive physical gatherings. The physical distance being imposed upon us is no coincidence. It is a reflection of our internal state as Jewish people. This year’s High Holidays offer a special opportunity for transformation, to rise from our current division to unity of hearts.
Our new conditions are actually an indication and direction from Above of what our prayers—particularly during the Jewish holidays—should be about. Now is the perfect time to pause and reflect on our presence in the world as a people—so divided, full of unfounded hatred, without connection or reciprocity. A potent and effective prayer should be the united plea for the whole nation, and how is it possible if we hold each other at arm’s length in internal opposition? If this is our state, then we should also feel the distance physically. This is the message inside the unique conditions presented to us by the pandemic this year.
It is good for us to feel how much our self-centered games close each of us within ourselves, how hard it is to open the heart toward someone with different opinions, and how much we are divided into factions and parties and camps. We take natural pride in our community and denomination, but it should never be used to belittle, despise, or mistreat others. While our diversity is wonderful, there should be something that connects us all as one above all the different shapes and colors. Currently, we are missing that overarching capstone of love between us.
So this year, instead of mechanically congregating, we should sit by ourselves and mourn the splintered and wretched state that we have sunken into as a people. As soon as we realize what must be fixed—our fragmentation as a Jewish nation—a true prayer will burst from the depth of our hearts to breathe life into the empty words recited from the prayer book.
Originally, a synagogue, or beit knesset (from the Hebrew kinus, meaning congregating) symbolized a house of connection, a place where everyone gathers together to seek a supreme power of love and giving. If this year the striking circumstances do not even allow us to come together physically, it must be an indication that we have reached a dead end on our current path. But there is a bright side: when the evil is revealed, it provides an invitation to correct the course and chart a new path to a more advanced form of existence.
Moreover, the coronavirus era illuminates something that was hidden until now. If in the past we could be separated in our hearts and still sit next to each other, it is no longer so. There is a law in nature which requires us to adapt ourselves to a world that has evolved into a tightly interconnected state. Therefore, we can no longer relate to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” as a lovely but empty platitude. It is the absolute formula for mutual connection, without which it will be impossible to survive. We are entering a new evolutionary degree where everyone will feel that the other is truly a part of him, and we really will become like one man with one heart.
The pilot project for integral connection between people must take place first between us, the Jews. And when we crack the new code for connection between us, we will light the way for all other peoples. The end result will be joy, health, prosperity—a supreme abundance that will flow through our connected hearts.