We’ve all heard the very common saying of how there is “a difference between being alone and being lonely”. Despite the often genuine compassion towards those who live alone from those who live with others, this generally is something those of us who actually do live alone are far more aware of than those who are not physically alone. That situation becomes even more significant this year, with holidays rapidly approaching, when rather than being able to spend our time with friends or family, we find ourselves sitting by ourselves. For many of us that is a reality that is not in our control and can’t be changed for the time being. What we can change is our approach and perspective, and that more than anything else can impact whether or not we feel lonely at this time. As I prepare myself to be alone during the Passover Seder for the first time in my life, I want to share my perspective for everyone feeling sadness or pain during this unprecedented time, particularly those like myself who will be living through this very different experience.
While my efforts to develop and grow are not always successful, the success rates have been good often enough for me to continue to make the effort. This is no different. But to make my own personal point I need to start by recognizing where in life I am blessed, and in turn I hope that it will help those in search for support to do the same. I will use the analogy of driving a car to help make my point. When you fill your car up with gas, regardless of the varying gas mileage you may get, you will certainly be driving for hours before you need to make your next stop for replenishing. You may be nowhere near a gas station when you find yourself down to half full or even one quarter full or less. Although you will begin to plan your next stop, for now you are still able to continue your journey, knowing with a fair degree of confidence that what you need to keep going will be available to you when you ultimately, or even before you critically need it in order to keep driving forward. Love, support, friendship, are all the fuel that powers our engines. I am blessed to have that powering me forward during this time. Being alone is a real tangible thing. Being lonely is a state of mind. When you are alone on Passover, or for my Christian friends on Easter, harness the fuel given to you by those you know genuinely care about your well-being. It may not make it all better, but I guarantee you it will only help.
The other thing I do, as I began to mention previously, and something I recommend to everyone, is to use it as an opportunity for personal growth. Balance is an important feature in any happy life. While I feel that being with people I love and care about is when life is at its best, the ability to be alone, even isolated without allowing it to derail you or even worse debilitate you, is a beneficial balance to achieve. It’s a challenge that not everyone is up to, whether it be for reasons out of their control or not, but if it is an achievable goal I recommend to anyone capable of getting there to do what they can to reach that level. We as a society need to have compassion for those who struggle to, or do not have the means of getting to that point, but for those of us who do, we need to work hard at getting there. It’s better for us now, and better for everyone later.
And finally I offer the following story to those of you who go into the holidays alone and on the verge of, or in the midst of a crisis of faith. It is the story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his Passover Seder in the year 1988. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was married to his wife Chaya Mushka for 60 years before her passing away in February of that year. They never had children of their own and were known for eating all their meals together alone on the Shabbat. So when the Rebbe’s wife passed away just a few months before Passover, the question was asked what would he do for the upcoming Seders. Despite the abundance of opportunities to be with other people, people who loved and revered him, he chose to spend the Seders alone. Rabbi YY Jacobson, well known inspirational and speaker who was 15 at the time and living in Crown Heights, in recounting this story said the following about the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his approach towards his solitary celebration of the Passover Seder.
“He could have had his Seder with 100 people, 1,000 people, or 10,000 people. He personally arranged for all the army Seders in Israel to be sponsored. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of people celebrating Pesach on Seder night, from Kathmandu to Alaska, from San Francisco to New Zealand. But at the end of the day, he went and did the Seder on his own. He didn’t need anyone else to be close to God. He didn’t need adulation. He didn’t need validation. He sat alone and relived the Exodus from Egypt.”
It is vital that people reading this understand that this is not an endorsement for being alone. It is not something to strive for or hope for on any regular basis. That being said, to achieve a level of inner strength, understanding and for those so inclined, faith that allows you to not only cope with being alone but to reap some benefit, is a level I wish on all of you struggling with the concept at this time.
I will be alone at home, but the fuel provided to me by those who not only care and love me, but to those I care about and love in return, is all I need to not only get through it, but to even see an opportunity to enjoy it and find benefit. I wish to all of you that same blessing as we approach Passover.
Whether we sit alone or with our loved ones, let us say with all our hearts and with our deepest conviction, as stated in the Ha Lachma Anya passage in the Hagadah, that although we are slaves today, next year we will be free.
A Chag Kasher V’Sameach, Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends and family and to all of you celebrating Easter I wish you health and happiness.