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In Place

I call this blog "B'makom," which means, "in place." Currently we are each obligated to stay in place - in order to protect ourselves and each other.  Since Hebrew does not have indefinite articles (like the little word "a"), it also means "in a place." I took it from a song about a quote from Rabbi Hillel. I learned the song during my teen-age NFTY conclaves. I love that song (and I really like Michael Isaacson too - now Dr. Michael Isaacson. He was on staff at International Torah Corps when I was a camper there in 1975 - but that is another story). We learned the song in Hebrew. The words are:
          "B'makom she'ein anashim, Hillel omer: Hishtadel l'hiyot ish."
In the seventies we could translate it as: "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." It was obvious to us then that it didn't mean that if someone was a woman, Hillel wants her to strive to be a man. It obviously means something like: "in a place where no one is behaving like decent human beings, strive to be a decent human being." The word in Hebrew "ish" can be used like the Yiddish word "mentsch," which technically means "man," but its current use includes the concept of being a decent human being. 

Today Hillel's quote has taken on a different meaning for me. "In a place where there are no other people, try to stay human." We are each isolated, and it is not easy to maintain our humanity. This isn't an attempt to remind you to wake up, brush your teeth every day, take a shower, and get dressed. That's up to you. Some people are quite happy to be able to spend this time not worrying about make-up and ironing their clothes, or shaving and dressing up. If you still want to do those things - please do. Which brings me to the point: Even in a place where we are not in contact with other human beings, we need to stay human. For the record, I still think everyone should brush their teeth every day.

Rabbi Hillel is perhaps most famous for saying ""That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary; go and learn." That was his way of encapsulating (while standing on one foot - which is also a story for another time - and would make a cool name for a blog) what it means to be Jewish.

Rabbi Hillel has another quote that guides and inspires me every day, and which for me encapsulates what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be a decent human being (one day I will figure out if I can write these Hebrew quotes in Hebrew, but for now, here is the transliteration and translation):
     "Im ein ani li, mi li? Uch'she-ani l'atzmi mah ani? V'im lo achshav, eimatai?"
     "If I am not for myself, who will be for me. If I am for myself alone, what am I. And if not now, when?"
(During my NFTY years we learned those words to a Debbie Friedman melody - which also adds the part about "in every generation, each person is obligated to feel that they themselves left Egypt. This is obviously timely since this week Passover begins, and at least at Passover we "re-enact" leaving slavery. Maybe I will go back to that, but that isn't what I want to talk about now.)

During this time when we each need to be "B'makom" - stay at our place, we need to take care of ourselves (which includes brushing our teeth), take care of each other (please be in contact with people you love, people you care about, and people who may not have anyone else who calls them), and do it NOW. 

The quarantine is a perfect example of Hillel's teaching.
- If I am not for myself, who will be for me?: Even if there was no order to stay away from other people, I should do it to protect myself. 
- If I am for myself alone, what am I?: Even if you are feeling great, stay away from others. You may be a carrier of this horrible illness and not know. By staying B'makom - at your place, you are protecting everyone else. 
- If not now, when?: It needs to be now. It needs to be until the danger has passed. 

Sun, July 5 2020 13 Tammuz 5780