During Shavuot, many communities choose to read the 10 Commandments on Shabbat instead of the week’s parsha.
On Shabbat the week after Shavuot, we repeat the Torah portion, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to read it.
Naso is the longest single portion in the Torah, which gives us so much to dive into and explore. Last week, Stephanie beautifully drew parallels between Naso and our lives during the pandemic. As the Torah always seems to do, it also really relates to where we are this week, which is decidedly different than where we were last.
As a refresher, one of the central pieces of Naso is the census where they count all of the men between 30-50 years old who are charged with completing the building of the Tabernacle.
Aside from the glaringly obvious parallel of the US Census being conducted during the pandemic, these past three months have been inundated with counting.
We have counted the number of people infected with COVID-19, the drastically higher number of people of color infected and impacted by COVID-19, the number of hospital beds, PPE, and ventilators available, the shockingly more limited number of all of these in lower income areas, the number of days people are sick for, the amount of time people can be contagious, the length of time the virus can live on a surface, the number of days we have been at home, the cost of health insurance bills, the number of people who have died, the number of people who have recovered.
Every business and organization has counted expenses against new revenue numbers. We have counted the number of businesses and organizations that won’t reopen after this is done. We have counted once in a generation unemployment numbers. Individuals as a result have counted how their new incomes will support their families, and how their hours of the day will be allocated. The number of people making impossible decisions.
And just when it felt like the air couldn’t get any thinner, the systemic injustices that our country was founded on have risen to a level that is tangible to almost everyone, not just people of color who experience it day in and day out.
We counted the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that a police officer held his knee down on George Floyd’s throat resulting in his murder. We are counting and recounting the number of people of color that have lost their lives in this country due to acts of racism and abuse of power. The number of peaceful protests. The number of protests that have turned into riots. The hours of curfew being enforced nationwide. The number of people using their voice to let others know that they are listening, donating, educating themselves, and standing up. The days, weeks, and years that racism has gone unchanged and that people in power have felt unmoved by it.
The air is paper thin. It is hard to breath.
In Naso, we count the people who are tasked to build the Tabernacle. They totaled 2,750 people. In all honesty the number of people counted really means nothing. None of them had to participate in a meaningful way.
It was the way that they made themselves count that really mattered. How they showed up to bring and build what was needed. How they engaged their families and the community in the project.
In this moment, how are we making ourselves count? How are we working to build a safe space for people to exist? How are we actively being anti-racist? Where are we directing our time, energy, and money?
We each are walking through this with our own experiences and stories. But how we walk through this right now will say a lot about how we counted during this time.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched for civil rights in Selma in 1965. Upon his return, Rabbi Heschel shared, “I felt my legs were praying.” Sometimes it is not enough to passively support. Right now we all have the opportunity to feel our legs praying. Protesting, reaching out to our representatives, changing laws and systems, registering to vote, VOTING, signing petitions, donating, supporting black owned businesses and organizations, LISTENING, talking, reading, learning. Doing this work on the national stage, but even more so right here in our JCC Denver community. And it might look different for everyone, especially during the pandemic. But this is how we build a system where Black Lives Matter. We must hold ourselves accountable to making our work count.
Naso includes a blessing for the people of Israel, the Priestly Blessing from God through Aaron, to offer them strength as they begin their work:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ
May God bless and protect you
יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּֽךָּ
May the light of God shine upon you and be gracious to you
יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May the presence of God be with you and grant you peace