When social distancing is the norm, how can Jewish communities remain connected and supportive? How might we feel close to one another while remaining physically distant? So many Jewish texts and Jewish rituals focus on communal gatherings, and while Zoom is a great tool, we are all aware of the limitation of digital technology in making us feel that we are truly in the presence of others. How might we maintain some of the most important strands of connectivity during this challenging time?

הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר...

Hillel said: do not separate yourself from the community...

Hillel's words resonate even at a moment when we cannot always be together in person. There is a decision to be made, a mental shift that we can, at any moment, choose to make: Don't separate yourself from the community. Even when that community is diffuse, or online, or hard to find, we can decide to attune ourselves to the people with whom we identify. We can watch and listen for their needs, be open to connection where we find it, and internally define ourselves into the collective.

מַרְגְּלָא בְּפוּמַּיְיהוּ דְּרַבָּנַן דְּיַבְנֶה: ״אֲנִי בְּרִיָּה, וַחֲבֵרִי בְּרִיָּה. אֲנִי מְלַאכְתִּי בָּעִיר וְהוּא מְלַאכְתּוֹ בַּשָּׂדֶה. אֲנִי מַשְׁכִּים לִמְלַאכְתִּי, וְהוּא מַשְׁכִּים לִמְלַאכְתּוֹ. כְּשֵׁם שֶׁהוּא אֵינוֹ מִתְגַּדֵּר בִּמְלַאכְתִּי, כָּךְ אֲנִי אֵינִי מִתְגַּדֵּר בִּמְלַאכְתּוֹ. וְשֶׁמָּא תֹּאמַר: אֲנִי מַרְבֶּה, וְהוּא מַמְעִיט — שָׁנִינוּ: אֶחָד הַמַּרְבֶּה וְאֶחָד הַמַּמְעִיט וּבִלְבַד שֶׁיְּכַוֵּין לִבּוֹ לַשָּׁמַיִם״.

The Sages in Yavne were wont to say:
I who learn Torah am God’s creature and my counterpart who engages in other labor is God’s creature.
My work is in the city and his work is in the field.
I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work.
And just as he does not presume to perform my work, so I do not presume to perform his work.
Lest you say: I engage in Torah study a lot, while he only engages in Torah study a little, so I am better than he,
it has already been taught:
One who brings a substantial sacrifice and one who brings a meager sacrifice have equal merit,
as long as he directs his heart towards Heaven.

Everyone is doing their own thing, separately, in different places. I cannot presume to tell you how to spend your time, and we may not be spending time together. Nonetheless, this saying or prayer put forward by the rabbis of Yavne provides an orientation towards the community. Our broader goals - to act for the sake of Heaven, to accomplish things that are lasting and important - are the same. This is not only an expression of respect for the other, but also a way of looking out into the world and reminding ourselves that we are all hard at work, together but separately.

Other Sefaria Resources:

The Individual and the Community, by Ann Whiting

Between Social Contract and Covenant, by Tzvi Sinensky

Community at a Distance: When Proximity Doesn't Bind Us, What Does? by Sara Weissman

Find more resources by typing "community" or "society" into Sefaria's search bar, and check out the topics page #society for even more resources!