May 14, 2020


5.15.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Is it possible I’m too tired to write the “Schmata”?

My therapist would ask: are you emotionally tired?  Physically tired?  And my pandemic-inspired truth is: both.  Emotionally, I’m done.  Grief for a life that was is exhausting – both for the way we used to live and for the people who have died recently of addiction or COVID-19.  The trauma we are all living through is exhausting.

And physically, well, who is sleeping well?  Anxiety dreams are a documented part of pandemic life.  On that Zoom call, you look done too, my friend – like you haven’t been sleeping well or maybe you’ve been sleeping too well.  In my house, there’s the toddler who is exploring her newfound freedom getting in and out of bed at all hours.  Whose turn is it to help her go back to bed?  Yours right?  It’s exhausting.

But here’s the learning: Sometimes, the toddler screams “I can’t” when she very clearly can. She is all of us right now.

She can and so can we.  We will.  Because we know the alternative.  We’ve played out that tape over and over and we know where it ends.  We don’t want to go back there: to a life that wasn’t living, to a living that was embarrassing at best and painful and shameful at worse.  So we will do recovery.  We will choose life over and over again – day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute.  It’s labor.

It’s a lot of labor right now, this effort of being well.  The effort of getting up when I have nowhere to go; the effort of Zoom after Zoom after Zoom after Zoom; the effort of attending to personal growth while also a parent, a teacher, a cleaner, a chef – all somehow concurrently and without the help of other hands.  Many of us – maybe even most of us – are not well.

Our parashah preaches rest.  Every seventh year, the land is to lie fallow and all debts are forgiven.  Do not go about your work as you would have.  It’s time to rest.  And every fiftieth year, the land is to be redeemed to its original holder.  The land does not belong to you. “…because the land is Mine, you are but strangers resident with Me” (Vayikra 25:23).

We are the land, my friends.  We are tired.  Tired of our labors – even labors of purpose, even labors of love.  We are tired because we think those labors are ours.  We are tired because we thought we had conquered something – recovery, mental illness, parenthood, career.  We thought we were doing those things well, or we were putting forth an image that we were.  Well, friends, we’re not.  The vast majority of us are not well.

This is the shmita year.  This is the Jubilee.  We need to rest and to be redeemed.  It’s time to remember that we belong to a Universe Bigger Than Us.  We belong to God.

Rest we know.  It is lack of movement, evenness, Shabbat.  In yoga, it’s ceasing the fluctuations of the mind.

Redemption we also know.  At Beit T’Shuvah, redemption is the phrase painted on the wall of the Board Room: you matter.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik teaches that to be redeemed is to know that my existence is “worthwhile, legitimate, and adequate, and anchored in something stable and unchangeable.”

But we resist rest.  We resist being redeemed.  This is why I am tired.  Maybe this is why you are tired too.  As my friend and teacher Rabbi Iggy put it: “What are you working on that you should not?”  Or as Rabbi Mark has said to me in the past: “What are you trying to prove and to whom?  Stop.  You have nothing to prove here.”

So, my friends, if like me you are tired – so so so tired of this isolation, this quarantine, this radical shift in living that moves too damn slow – let go of that image of your world or yourself, or yourself in that world, from the Before Times.  The world is not yours.  It’s God’s.  Even your fate is not yours.  It’s God’s.  And no matter how hard you fight it, you will lose.

What will you let go of?  What are you working on that you should not?  What are you trying to prove?

Yes, you are you – only you.  You are powerless.  I am powerless.  We cannot return to life as it was and we never will.  Jobs will look different; grocery shopping has changed and will likely change forever; air travel will radically change; and a whole generation of kids will think handshakes are disgusting.  You can’t change those things, just as you cannot change your addiction or the addiction of someone you love.  You are powerless.

But powerlessness is not the end of the story.  In recovery, we know it’s just the beginning.  We know that when a person says they are powerless, they are beginning to understand they are not alone.  And when you are not alone, you are not so damn tired because you’re not trying to do all the things by yourself.

Whether you’re isolated in an apartment, locked up, newly unemployed, or juggling work, kids, parents, and spouse, you may begin to feel lonely.  But you are not alone.  You are only powerless.  And you know that’s the beginning of redemption – the beginning of knowing that you matter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kerry