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Still in Isolation

March 17, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

Pondering the implications of the continuing sheltering in place and its opportunities for growth.

I know I’m not the only one shaking my head in shock, bewilderment, confusion and frustration. After months of sheltering in place, after months of isolation, after months of limitation, we were starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of this proverbial tunnel. Beaches were starting to open (although not their parking lots!), some restaurants were starting to open (although not my favorite ones!), some malls were prepared to open (not that we need any more retail therapy!) – we were finally going to venture out, some of us more tentatively than others, and re-enter the world.

And then, without missing a beat, the riots struck, curfews were imposed and here we are trapped at home even longer, with the damage to stores and restaurants so great as to further impede their opening dates. What’s going on?

Of course, I don’t have the answers. If you want those, you should stop reading now. But one thing I do know, everything that happens in the world is, somehow, in some way, from the Almighty. And everything that happens in the world is, somehow, in some way, an opportunity to grow. What can we learn from this enforced isolation? And, I venture to say, it certainly seems possible that the isolation is continuing because we haven’t fully learned our lessons yet!

Again, I don’t presume to understand the past or predict the future, I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of the Almighty’s providence, how He operates in the world, the details of His Divine plan. I just know (and take comfort from the fact) that He has one.

But I can ponder the implications of this isolation, I can explore the opportunities for growth, I can speculate on the ways I can learn from this situation, and, most importantly, I can make some changes in my behaviors. I guess I haven’t made enough yet!

On a broader level, isolation in the Torah is considered a type of punishment – as a consequence for an accidental killing for example, the perpetrator has to run to a city of refuge, leaving behind all but his immediate family. He has to face isolation from his community. If one of the Jewish people slandered another in the desert, the penalty was a forced isolation. Even at the beginning of the Torah, when Cain killed his brother Abel, one of the consequences was that he became a wanderer, he could no longer live among other people. All these situations suggest that community is precious, is deeply important to us, is life-giving in fact.

Maybe we haven’t appreciated it. Maybe we’ve taken it for granted. Maybe we’ve kvetched too much about the price we pay for homes to live in our Jewish community. Maybe we complain about shul politics and the power of the board and publicly air all our disagreements with other members of our community. Maybe…

Whether we do or not, at this time, in this moment of isolation, we are able to reflect on what community means to us, on the privilege of living in a community, on the tremendous kindness done by community members for each other, on all the small advantages of Jewish life that we just take for granted – people opening up their homes, delivering food to the needy, or to new mothers or to those sitting shiva. We spend a lot of time complaining about all of our community obligations – the shul dinner, the banquet for that charitable organization, another wedding to attend – now we’re praying for one of those! We can’t wait to get dressed up and go out – even if it’s to a (boring -sorry!) dinner…

On a personal level, I guess we all still have some more introspection to do. I, for one, know that I didn’t come close to achieving my “corona” goals. I didn’t learn Torah as much as I would have liked. I didn’t pray with the concentration I hoped to achieve. Every family dinner wasn’t a discussion of important and meaningful topics. Every evening wasn’t spent playing games around the table. My relationships didn’t get the attention I thought I’d have to lavish on them. And I didn’t even master sourdough bread or a diamond art project!

It hasn’t all been a waste. I have had many meaningful conversations with friends, family, and my husband. I have taught many zoom classes and have written articles for But I see that I still have a long way to go.

And so, perhaps instead of gnashing my teeth in frustration, instead of grumbling about the extended isolation, instead of repeating like a defective mantra “I can’t take this anymore!”, I need to recognize the additional opportunity. I need to lift up and see that, given that I have a long way to go, the Almighty has given me some bonus time to accomplish my goals. He has prevented me from leaving these four walls quite yet. He has stopped me from the busyness that will occur when I step outside. He is allowing me to keep my resolution (made in the early days of COVID) to take it a little slower, to focus on being, not doing, to try to grow in my character and deepen my relationship with the Almighty and His Torah.

This is the main relationship I can actually foster now; I guess I should be happy that the Almighty wants more time with me!! And I guess I should just dig in and get to work. I’ve got a lot of growing to do. And maybe I could order one of those paint-by-numbers projects or a 1000-piece puzzle…

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