Rabbi Sharon Brous says the coronavirus pandemic has been a revelation — one that has exposed “the truths about racial injustice, income inequality, gross disparities in access to health care and basic services.”
However, this revelation is “essential to addressing the root cause and then working toward a shared reality that truly honors the divine image in every one of us,” she told TODAY in an email interview.
Brous, the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR, a Jewish congregation based in Los Angeles, shared words of hope for the future and opened up about the role her faith has played in her life while quarantined with her husband and their three children.
How faith has helped her face the challenges of the pandemic:
“I have begun to think of the world before COVID-19 as ‘the world as it was,’ and the time after as ‘the world as it could be.’ Right now, we’re living in the in-between, when literally everything hangs in the balance. I really believe that what we do with this time will determine what the future holds for all of us. In order to build the world as it could be, we’ll need to dream together.
“Of course, a pandemic is a strange time for generative reimagining. We’re tired, scared, more aware of our vulnerability than ever before.
“This is where faith and religious practice come in, for me. The sabbath, Shabbat, calls us into a dreamscape every week, giving us a chance to press pause on what is, and engage in the kind of deep reflection that will give us the audacity to imagine what could be. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Shabbat has given us a sense of what’s possible through times far darker and more dangerous than this one. For me, Shabbat is the beating heart of my religious and spiritual life. The moment when we remember our own humanity. When we stop for a moment to listen, and to hear what we can in the stillness. When we remember how profoundly connected we are to one another, and to the Holy One. When we dare to hope. Sing. Mourn. When we reaffirm that there is still so much beauty in the world. When we remember that love is the heart of everything. Shabbat is both a spiritual practice and an expression of faith, and it’s what helps prepare us for what could be.”
How she stays connected with her faith:
“We’ve been meeting every morning for virtual morning minyan (daily prayer gatherings), every week to celebrate Shabbat, and every Saturday night to close Shabbat with song. Built into the practice of Shabbat is the idea that we find and create holiness in time, even if not in space. The sacred comes when the sun sets, whether we are in our own homes or together in the sanctuary. As the days and weeks of quarantine blend together, many are finding that they need to tap into sacred time more now than ever before.
“We’ve also grieved together through Zoom funerals and shiva minyanim (gatherings to comfort mourners), we’ve sung together and cried together and shared stories after burying loved ones. In our tradition, one of the greatest expressions of holiness and love is saying ‘Amen!’ when someone says ‘yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei rabbah …’ — the words of mourner’s kaddish. This is our way of saying to the brokenhearted: I see you. I can’t take your pain away, but I can remind you that you’re not alone. The screen is no substitute for in-person gatherings, but it is a reminder that we are still connected, deeply, profoundly and inextricably, to one another. And we’ve been finding that through technology, our web of connection now extends, in a strange and beautiful way, far beyond geographic limitations, as we are now often joined by an extended community not only from across the country, but also from Barcelona, London and Tel Aviv.”
A quote that provides her with comfort and hope:
“The verse I wake up to and go to sleep with these days is from Psalm 118: Min ha-metzar karati Ya, anani bamerhav Ya — I called to the Lord from the narrowest place, and God answered me with great expansiveness.
“In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ Viktor Frankl writes of an experience he had just after he and fellow prisoners were liberated from the death camps at the end of the Holocaust. He describes walking out of the camp into the field, a free man for the first time in many years.
“‘Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks’ jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky — and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or the world — I had but one sentence in mind — always the same: I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and God answered me in the freedom of space.
“‘How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.’ (‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ p. 96-97)
“I hold that image close. Crying out from our narrow place — the place of grief, uncertainty, and vulnerability. May we too be answered.”
What she would say to those who might be struggling to find hope at this time:
“This virus is not only a public health crisis; it is a revelation — exposing the deep fissures in our society that always existed, but which too many of us had willfully ignored for generations.
“Our Rabbis teach that in order to heal from an illness, we first must confront the root cause and only then can we begin to apply the proper treatment. Our nation is profoundly unwell, and for too many years, the sickness has been misdiagnosed.
“It’s hard to find hope in the moment you first recognize how serious the illness is, and the course of treatment remains uncertain. But this moment of revelation could be the beginning of our healing, as a society. The pandemic is waking us up to the truths about racial injustice, income inequality, gross disparities in access to health care and basic services. Looking honestly at those truths may feel overwhelming. But these revelations are essential to addressing the root cause and then working toward a shared reality that truly honors the divine image in every one of us. That’s the opportunity of this moment. So, even on the hardest days, I keep casting my gaze to the future, trying to remember that this moment is a painful part of the journey toward healing for us all.”
What she would say to those who feel distant from God during this time:
“Faith is fluid. It’s OK to have moments of expanded and contracted spirit, when we feel more or less connected to God and to the sacred all around us. When we feel distant, we shouldn’t be ashamed, just aware. When we can’t find God, we should practice finding each other. The best way to love God is to love God’s image. That is how I find my way back to faith, again and again.”