Yakov Danishefsky
Rabbi, Therapist, Speaker, and Author

How to make the most of quarantine

If you’re stuck at home for an extended period of time, you will likely have moments of losing your mind. If you are stuck at home with little children, you will most definitely have moments of losing your mind. And yet, it’s worth considering how to make the most of the situation. I’m not talking about giving reasons for why this is happening but simply thinking about what to do with it.

I’ve written previously about the impact of disengaged families on mental health and addiction (see article here) and it comes to mind again in the current COVID-19 situation. Our lives are endlessly programmed. Schedules are filled with work, meetings, community events, simchas, fundraisers, dinners, davening, learning, chessed, etc. And these are good things! But no matter how good the reason to be out, our families are still affected. These days, when you ask someone how they’re doing, the most common response is, “busy.” Perhaps the upside of quarantine is the prospect of being with those nearest to us and having nowhere to go.

We recently read the section of the Torah about the mishkan, the tabernacle. At the center of this holy structure was the kodesh hakodashim, the holy of holies, and in this area sat the ark housing the luchot (the tablets). And upon that most precious and hallowed space were two keruvim, angelic figures. What were these keruvim? According to one opinion in the Talmud they were the faces of little children.

Each home can be a miniature mishkan – a unique space for sacred connections, curiosity, and comfort. The Shabbos candles reflect the menorah, the table serves as the mizbeach, the Torah books are the ahron and luchot, and so on. But beyond all these vessels, the holiest part of the structure is the relationships of the people inside. The two faces looking undistractedly at one another.

When Rav Ahron Lichtenstien ZT”L was asked about his greatest accomplishment in life, he simply said his family. He built a powerhouse Yeshiva with a surrounding community, mastered an incredible amount of Torah, and earned many forms of public recognition for his vast contributions to society. But for him, family was the most valuable accomplishment.

Quarantine certainly isn’t a good thing. But if it’s a thing, maybe there’s a way to live it large by cherishing the unrushed moments of togetherness. Eating breakfast without running to work. Reading books, playing games, and talking without thinking about the next event you need to get to or be ready for.

Here are some suggestions for how to use this time as an opportunity to build your mishkan and turn the keruvim towards each other.

For couples, use this time to enhance your relationship. Here are some resources:

  • Marriage researchers and therapists, Drs. John and Julie Gottman produced a free app called Gottman Card Decks for building deeper lasting relationships. Download this app and play around with the different card decks it has.
  • If you haven’t already done this, check out Gary Chapman’s famous 5 Languages of Love. Take the tests here to discover your and your partner’s languages.
  • Order Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight book. It is a guide for 7 conversations to increase relational depth and meaning. Click on this link.

For parents and children. Use this time to bond, have fun, and maybe even have some deeper moments together. Here are some resources:

  • Gary Chapman’s well-known love languages can also be used for parent child relationships. Discover your child’s love language here using Chapman’s test specifically designed for kids.
  • For teens, check out Dan Harris’ video on his journey to discovering meditation. Watch it here and talk about it. Maybe even try meditating together!
  • Show interest in the parts of your child’s life that you may usually not have time for. Ask to hear his or her favorite song, play a video game together. Cook together or do a workout side by side.
  • Create a family motto together and design a poster around it.

For individuals on their own:

  • Deepen your relationship with yourself. April Steele has a powerful approach for this in a way you’ve likely never tried. She calls it Imaginal Nurturing and her resources can be purchased here.
  • Connect with family and friends on the phone or through video. Those you care about may be more available than they usually are for a longer catch-up conversation. Maybe even call someone you were once close with but haven’t seen or spoken to in years.
  • This may be the time to try out Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Get her book here.

While these suggestions focus on more “serious” depth building, the most beauty (and crazy making) will emerge from the simpler, lighter, and maybe even unintended moments of connection. Use Alexa to throw a dance party in your living room, play cards, Simon-says, eat three meals a day together, make smoothies, and create an in-house scavenger hunt. Of course, all this sounds even better without the pandemic in the background but it is an opportunity nonetheless. May we all be healthy and may this pandemic end speedily with as little harm as possible. And through it all, may we deepen and cherish the holiest parts of our lives.

About the Author
Yakov is a clinical therapist specializing in trauma, sex-addiction, and couples therapy. He is also a public speaker and Jewish educator with a unique blend of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. He is the author of Attached: Connecting to Our Creator, A Jewish Psychological Approach. His podcast, "Attached" can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Youtube.
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