A High Ten
"The L-rd rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He recompensed me." (Psalms 18:21)
I remember, not too long ago, when I’d walk into a store and the annoying salespeople would flank me upon entry with a diatribe of information I’d prefer not to know. Now they welcome me in a snide tone, as if I am an enemy combatant, with the words: “Ma’am. You have to disinfect your hands first.” By the end of a lovely day at the mall after suffocating behind a mask (which has made lipstick irrelevant) my hands are chapped and burning and crying for mercy. Over a year later how compliantly we adhere to the ever-changing guidelines in order to avoid catching the Coronavirus, most especially our attentiveness to hand washing. After all, we want to stay alive. But a Kabbalistic teaching keeps echoing in my consciousness without abatement: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” In modern English: What’s happening in the higher worlds happens here and vice versa. And so I ask, “Why the hands? Why the masks?”
The Ten Commandments, in some sense, are a paradigm. The commandments on the first tablet pertain to G-d--“the Above”; the commandments on the 2nd tablet are between man and man, “the below.” The commandment that most highlights our hands is “You shall not steal”; As per Jewish teaching, it corresponds to the commandment of taking the Name of the L-rd in vain. As the rabbis teach: “Stealing from someone compromises our honesty and will inevitably lead to swearing falsely in G-d’s name in order to deny the theft.” Our mouths are masked, our hands vilified. In fact, the first things that sold out when this all started were masks and gloves. Very interesting.
And so, since everything in this world is a message from the Heavens above, I can’t help but think that “cleanliness protocols” around the globe, ushered in by the lovely Covid-curse, was a wakeup call to us all: It’s time to clean up our acts. Our immoral behaviors are deadly. We steal from each other in so many ways: We steal people’s hearts, minds, time, ideas, reputations, dignity, words, money, etc., and then we start justifying why it’s all okay. Every thief is a make-shift defense attorney and a rationalizer par excellence. After all, a guilty conscience can’t live alone with itself and like a child makes up imaginary friends called Justifications, Reasons and Excuses. Yes, we have to keep physically clean, but our crimes against each other, are crimes against G-d’s Torah and makes us spiritually dirty, and just as stress manifests as sickness, so does sin. I cannot profess to know, but only contemplate, which of our sins have led to the suffering that we've all endured for over a year. But to say that we have suffered for no cause is antithetical to the teachings of the Torah. And we have only to look into this week's Torah readings to see all the punishments that would befall us if we do not adhere to the rules that G-d has laid down for us.
There is only so much that hand sanitizer can do for us. It certainly won’t wash our way into G-d’s good graces. For the past 40 days since the second day of Passover, the Jewish nation counted the passage of that time with a special prayer. There are a few reasons for doing so and one is to cleanse our souls from defilement. Each day we grapple with a trait that calls for “fixing”, i.e., purification. That spiritual preparation leads us into the Shavuot holiday, wherein the holy Torah was given on Mount Sinai by G‑d to the Jewish people, and as a gift to all humanity, more than 3,300 years ago. That gift is the eternal sanitizer and the only means through which we can refine ourselves. Sadly, when this pandemic erupted, we dashed for the Purell and not so much for G-d. But on the approaching holiday of Shavuot we are given the chance once again to grab our Torah with both hands, 'clean hands' and commit ourselves to being better Jews and better people. And to that I hope you "give me ten"--a high ten, a very high ten. Shabbat Shalom!