We asked a handful of local rabbis for their spiritual advice during this time of mounting uncertainty. Have something of your own to add? Please leave a note in the comments.
Rabbi Julie Zupan:
There’s a Jewish teaching that “one mitzvah leads to another.” It’s also true that one act of kindness, one act of love, one act of generosity, can lead to another. It’s an extraordinary thing that when we are feeling a bit down, doing for others is an almost certain way to lift our spirits. Last week, Rabbi Shmuli Yanklowitz reminded us that, “Love is contagious, too.” We’re seeing a heartwarming outpouring of generosity. Kindness is contagious, too. Let’s make kindness and love go viral!
Rabbi Rachel Silverman:
We’re all feeling stuck because we’re social beings who are being told to distance ourselves from one another. We are conditioned to seek out community and now that community has been taken away, seemingly overnight. It goes against everything Judaism teaches to say that we should stay home and not engage with one another. So, in fact, the real answer is that while we have to follow our governor’s ruling not to gather in person, nothing says not to connect via other means.
Judaism teaches, “al tifrosh min hatzibur”—do not separate yourself from the community. This is the time to take extra special care to reach out to loved ones near and far, to call people we haven’t spoken to in a while, to connect via social media, and to take part in the myriad of community learning, praying and social opportunities that our regularly in-person communities have moved online. We might be apart physically, but it is incumbent on us to build community in other ways so that we end this once-in-a-lifetime situation stronger than we started.
Rabbi E. David Curiel:
Every spiritual tool to cope with coronavirus physical distancing I learned from my first grader:
- Routine is a good thing.
- Pajama day is for a special occasion.
- Bath time is only optional every other day.
- Cry until you get it all out.
- Screen-time limits are good.
- Run around a lot.
- Get lots of sleep.
- Do lots of art.
- Reading (books) is your friend; audio books are too.
- Love unreservedly.
Rabbi Becky Silverstein:
At this moment, our physical boundaries are defined for us: the walls of our homes and the distance between people when outside those walls. The ways to move through those boundaries are seemingly abundant—through social media, text messages, video conferencing and letter-writing. A more pressing question might be: How will we exist in time?
Judaism provides some answers to this question. Shabbat provides a weekly rhythm, Rosh Chodesh (the start of the new month) and other holidays provide a yearly rhythm, and praying three times a day provides a daily one. Creating a routine or schedule is different from grounding oneself in tradition three times a day, though the latter might be helpful in doing the former.
We can create ritual to help mark the passage of each day: a poem read each morning, a short walk in the afternoon, journaling in the evening. We can use meditation or drawing or a gratitude practice, learn a text (I love Pirkei Avot), read one of the psalms, say the Sh’ma or recite the full liturgy. Whatever you do, do so with the intention of connecting to self, to tradition, to the fullness of the universe. Ask your rabbi for help creating something. Grab a chevruta (buddy) for accountability. And don’t forget to hydrate.
Rabbi Elyse Winick:
What an extraordinary privilege we have in the virtual resources available to us at this challenging time. And yet, while the benefit of virtual community in a time of social distancing is immense, the constant flow of news can drain the very energy that virtual community builds. Step back. Step away from the screen. Cultivate the solitary sacred. The Mishnah teaches that the ancient pious would meditate for an hour prior to prayer in order to ensure a proper state of mind.
What is our current state of mind? Are we carrying anxiety about our health and about the health of those we love? Are we struggling with the challenges of a remote workplace? Do we have children out of school, with disruptions to their (and our) usual routine? The weight of our anxieties is in our breathing, in our muscles, in our ability to be mindful and planful. As we craft our routines for the new (albeit temporary) normal, the need to nurture our souls cannot be ignored.
Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook wrote: “The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence. From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life’s building are filled with the light of life—all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit and of the soul, in all of their values.”
We must allow ourselves to be filled with light, both light which comes to us and light which is hidden within us. That light may be captured through a walk in solitude. It may be sparked by a piece of text or a piece of music. You might find that light in prayer. Daily, in these days of darkness, we must give ourselves the gift of light. Daily, we will rebuild our souls, steady ourselves in the face of myriad demands.
Drawing from Rav Kook’s notion of letters filling our souls, here are some books you might find restorative in this surreal moment in time: “Golfing with God: A Novel of Heaven and Earth” by Roland Merullo; “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul” by Naomi Levy; “The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India” by Rodger Kamenetz; and “Inner East: Illuminated Poems and Blessings” by Marcia Falk.
Wishing you a time of strength, solace and good health.