During my month of meditation, I was plagued with gut wrenching homesickness. If I had only known how large a dose of home I was going to get a few short weeks later! At the heart of my homesickness was a palpable awareness that all my habitual strategies to self-soothe were not available to me. I couldn’t turn my attention to work for an infusion of the deep sense of meaning I receive from serving others. I couldn’t flip the switch on a device in order to watch Netflix or shop on Amazon or take in an audio book to distract me from painful thoughts or uncomfortable feelings that visited me. I couldn’t jump into my car and run to Whit’s for an ice cream sandwich to drown out the tension or insecurity I was feeling. And worst of all, the beloveds in my life were far away, unable to offer me the comfort of their loving touch or kind words. I was stripped naked to face each moment and each day just as it was.
In this time of extended quarantine in our homes, I imagine that many of us are finding ourselves feeling similarly off-kilter, pining to resume the life we carefully curated, a life we enjoy or at least feels predictable. And maybe you’ve noticed, your usual strategies to experience pleasure and avoid pain are fairly flimsy in the face of the collective trauma of a world pandemic. After all, binge watching Netflix and eating copious amounts of chocolate or (fill in the blank) were always distractions at best, never making the sadness, loneliness, or fear go away permanently.
Pain and discomfort are inevitable. But here’s the good news, friends. Right now, we have a rare opportunity to practice reprogramming the way we relate to it. I’m reminded of an early Chasidic tale wherein a wealthy man from a neighboring town invites the Baal Shem Tov to tutor his son and offers to let him live in his spare house. He accepts the invitation and upon entering the house discovers it is full of demons wreaking havoc, overturning furniture and breaking dishes. The Baal Shem Tov speaks to the demons, telling them they are welcome to stay in the house with him, but they have to live in the attic. Instead of trying to drive them out, he gives them a room where they can do no harm. Could the same be true of the “demons” that visit us? Instead of attempting to ignore or rid ourselves of them, a battle we will surely lose, is it possible to welcome them? Is there a place within us for them to stay where they can do no harm?
Next time you notice you are checking out, think about checking in instead. Identify what feeling is arising and where in your body you can feel it. You may notice that just acknowledging worry, anger, or sadness is present lessens its grip. And then, if it is available, can you surround that painful feeling with love and concern, or just be ok with it until it subsides (and it will). Challenge yourself, because you may find a deeper sense of stability and ease becoming intimate with the “demons” than you ever did by eating or drinking or distracting yourself to avoid them. Wellbeing will come with your wholehearted acceptance that contingency and fragility is built into the system. Certainty and predictability are an illusion though you may not have noticed it before. Life’s transience makes for its preciousness. Let us never take our eyes off that prize.
Previous messages from the Rabbi
Dear Congregation, Can you believe we are already 3 weeks into Rabbi’s sabbatical? We have two months to go, and she will be back with us. As she meditates and hikes and studies and engages in serious renewal, we, the Clergy Renewal Team, want to challenge you to consider thinking about renewal for yourself. As … Continue reading Tu B’Shevat (February 10th) and the Importance of Sabbatical
It takes time to integrate the experience of spending five days with 5000 Jews learning from our movement’s thought leaders and encountering our talented artists, collating wisdom from session after session offered by experts in Jewish text and culture, organizational psychology, and education. However, I can already say that this year’s Union for Reform Judaism … Continue reading Between You and Me – January, 2020
Last month, I was one of 30 people Carolina Jews for Justice gathered to make pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama. Among the sites we visited were the Rosa Parks museum, Freedom Riders Museum, Dexter Street Baptist Church and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, all living testimonials dedicated … Continue reading Between You and Me December, 2019
“It is impossible to do deep Rebbe-work if you have to be the shammes (caretaker) at the same time. If you are expecting deep teaching from someone, you have to give them the time to get there, to connect with the shalshelet, with the chain of their transmission; you have to support them in their … Continue reading Between You and Me- November 2019
You may remember the opening words of the Ne’ila service in the old, red Machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook): “Open the gates. Open them wide…” In the twelve years I was a rabbi BC (Before CBHT), this was the most reviled of all moments in the Days of Awe for me. For the four years … Continue reading Between You and Me- October, 2019
Recently, I was told its name is Joe Pye Weed. But since I’ve been living in Asheville, I know it to be the wildflower that bursts forth each year to tell me I’d better get a move on and write my High Holy Day sermons. I had to laugh when I learned that Joe Pye … Continue reading Between You and Me- Sept 2019
The Talmud tells the story of a man called Honi the Circle-Maker, a Jewish Rip Van Winkle, who went out for a walk, sat down to rest, and fell asleep for 70 years. When he awoke and returned to his village, no one recognized him. Separated from his former companions, he died of loneliness, at … Continue reading Between You and Me – August 2019
“If you stop doing hard things,” she said, “you’ll stop being able to do hard things.” That was what my health instructor said during class a couple of weeks ago. She was lamenting how her mother, who used to be on her feet all the time while she was working, had retired, joined the YMCA … Continue reading Between You and Me
Carpet Story A story from Iran: When a certain Muslim had been swindled by a Jew in business, the angered party went to the regional governor and prevailed upon him to issue an official edict requiring the conversion of every Jew by a certain date, upon pain of death. As the deadline approached, the Jewish … Continue reading Between You and Me – May 2019
The Hagaddah does a great job telling the story of the Israelite’s enslavement at the hands of the mighty Pharaoh. How with an outstretched arm and with signs and wonders, God redeemed us from captivity. Many of us will reflect at our Seder tables about those who are victims of tyranny today at the hand … Continue reading Between You and Me – April 2019
There is a folk legend that King Solomon, the wisest person ever to have lived, once posed the following riddle: What can you say to a happy man to make him sad, that will also make a sad man happy?” Solomon took a gold ring from his pocket upon which were engraved three Hebrew letters: … Continue reading Between You and Me- March 2019