By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
An imaginative Mishnah (Tamid 3:8) teaches: “From Jericho, they could hear the sound of the Temple gate opening” – many miles away – in Jerusalem. They could also hear the Temple herald; the flute and cymbals accompanying the sacrificial service; and the singing of the Levites. “Some say that from Jericho they could even hear the High Priest uttering God’s Name on Yom Kippur!” Even more remarkable… Rabbi Eliezer ben Diglai claimed that goats at his father’s house east of the Dead Sea (themselves notoriously malodorous creatures) would sneeze from the aroma of the incense used at the Temple!
While these claims may strain our credulity as historians (and students of either geography or physics), they convey an urgent lesson in the era of COVID-19. Physical separation or distance from our “Temples” – from our synagogues and religious institutions – need not represent insurmountable obstacles to vivid liturgical experiences and spiritual inspiration. Temple Era Jericho did not even have the benefit of Zoom webinars or tele-communications! The music and wisdom of worship – the blessings that come from addressing God – are still available to us. They just demand some extra effort… and a bit of imagination.
Synagogue doors have closed. May those gates open soon. The power of prayer, however, has been ours all along.
That’s nothing to sneeze at.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)