It’s like living in a whirlwind of all the lame things that were wished upon us — “May you live in interesting times,” “A pox on your house,” “Be careful what you wish for” (as in: “I wish I didn’t have to go to school again”).
Nobody could have foreseen the events that are unfolding. And it is all happening so quickly! By now, many of us have been waking in the morning without really being sure what day it is. It’s like one long time blob that just goes on and on. Except for Shabbat…
I got a WhatsApp a few days ago that reads, “now there are only two days in a week: Shabbat and everything else. Many people wrote to say that they felt the same way. It resonated with me as well and I wondered why.
What is the missing ingredient that made time memorable, meaningful? The answer is becoming clear to me. It would seem that we can manipulate time in such a way as to give it meaning and substance. We’ve been doing just that since we became a nation, but we may not have realized it.
The first Mitzvah we were commanded to perform as a People right before we left Egypt was the mitzvah of kidush hachodesh, sanctification of the new month, of time. (Exodus 12:1) Ever since this specific month of Nissan, we have been sanctifying each month in the presence of at least ten our fellow Jews. The practice continues to this day.
When, 7 weeks later, at Mt. Sinai, Hashem commands us to keep Shabbat, (Ibid 20:8-11) it is a new concept. He says,”Shamor et yom Hashabbat lekadsho”- “guard the Shabbat day, to make it holy”. That is to say, by guarding it, by doing certain things, we make the day holy. We can make a Tuesday holy when a Chag (holiday) falls on that day and we observe it. We can actually put our imprint on time; the imprint of our higher selves and create something with deep meaning. This is an awe inspiring concept
The present situation, which calls for complete isolation and loss of routine is quite difficult for many. There are ways to cope. We can make a routine, albeit a different one. Travel to work is no longer a part of most people’s lives right now, but for those working from home, they can create a “work day” with specific hours and work in a different area of the house. A time can be set aside for reading, for cooking, for exercise. Different days can be set aside for different tasks. On Sunday I clean out the fridge, on Tuesday I do laundry and so on. Children can be part of this. They, more than most adults, need a schedule and a rhythm. Suddenly, things begin to feel more stable.
The second major change in everyone’s life these days is sparse social contact. Lucky for us that we can talk to anyone, anywhere, by phone. We can see people half a world away, and text nonstop to those whose presence we crave most. We can even attend class, be part of a shiur or book club via zoom. It helps, but as everyone I know has said, “it’s just not the same.” Even people who are not big on hugging or touching find something comforting about being around other people.
We humans were created as social beings. Some more than others, but we all need to be part of a bigger whole even if we are a silent partner. Not everyone has to make noise. In a minyan, most of the people just say, “amen”. And that’s fine. Not everyone can be the “bal t’fillah”, the leader of the prayer, but he needs 9 others to make a minyan.
Now we are told to pray alone, “b’ychidut”. This is very strange and a very, very rare circumstance. That is why normative, reasonable, people can put themselves and others at risk to stay connected, at least in prayer. It just feels odd for a Jewish man to pray alone. Maybe that is the lesson we need to learn. Before we can pray in a minyan, we need to know how to pray alone.
Before the beginning of this secular year I thought of a cute quip to describe it. “2020-The year of seeing clearly” –a reference to the measure of visual acuity considered to mark good vision. Now it takes on a much deeper meaning. What we are being made to see clearly in this social distancing, isolating and schedule-changing year is the tremendous power mankind has been given by The Creator to manipulate the time and space they share with each other.
Once we have joined a Zoom Chabura (learning group) and found that we actually CAN learn this way, will we adopt that style after this whole thing is over?
It’s our choice as how we want to live our lives.