August 6, 2020


8.7.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

Let’s play ball!  Or not …

Back to school!  Or not …

Restaurant dining!  Or not …

We’re craving normal.  We’re craving restaurants and beach life, going back to work, gathering for services, and social cues beneath the cheekbones.  But for our own health and the health of people we care about (and people we don’t), we can’t have what we once thought of as normal.  We can have some sports, but not many and not in person.  We can have school virtually, or maybe in a classroom, but only in adapted and unfamiliar ways.  We can eat out – outside – and only if we still have a job to pay for it.

Yearning for what we once thought of as a normal way of life is, well, normal.  So many addicts in recovery yearn to “be normal” – to be like the people (aka, “normies”) who can have one glass of wine; to be like the people who don’t need thousands of dollars of dental work; to be happy.  We want for ourselves what we think is normal.  We want what we think others are doing.  We want what we think is normal.

There is perceived safety in normal.  It’s predictable.  I generally know the ebbs and flows of one day and the next: get in the car, go to work, return home.  Repeat.  Normal also gives me a sense of fitting in.  I’m just like everyone else, so I’m safe.

But we can sacrifice so much – sometimes too much – for normal.  In the show “We’re Here” – a show in which drag queens go to small towns to work with local communities to put on drag shows (stay with me) – person after person reflects that they’ve pushed some part of themselves down for the sake of appearing normal.

In recovery, so often a person asks themselves: Do I tell my extended family that I don’t drink now?  That I struggle with addiction?  Hiding a part of ourselves is done in the name of safety – protecting myself from hurtful relatives or community – but it is also the very thing that keeps us in shame.  And shame keeps us in addiction.

In the time of COVID-19, we risk lives for the sake of normal.

Both in COVID-19 and in addiction, our attachment to “normal” can kill us.

The Israelites once thought slavery was normal.  A generation later, they think wandering in the wilderness is normal.  So much so that Moses spends chapter after chapter of Deuteronomy enjoining them to enter the Promised Land.  He worries that, at this crucial moment, the Israelites will choose the wilderness and slavery they know over the possibility of freedom.  So he warns them:

“Take care lest you forget Adonai your God and fail to keep God’s commandments, rules, and laws, which I enjoin upon you today” (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Moses says: Do not forget where you have been!  Remember that long and difficult road!  Play out the tape!  So many times, you challenged God while we wandered in the wilderness: with “that sinful calf” that you made, again at “Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibroth-hattaavah,” and again when you didn’t trust God in the incident of the spies (Deut. 9:21-23).   But we made it through those challenges.  Now, here and now, we stand at the edge of redemption, at the banks of the Jordan River.  This is our moment to enter the Promised Land!  To be free!  To create a new normal!

Right now, we are at the banks of the river.  What was normal is no longer normal.  The world, our country, even how we interact with one another in person, on Zoom, live, livestreamed – all of it has changed.  So now, with all of these changes – some wanted, some unwanted – how do you want to live?

Moses asks: “But now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you?” (Deut. 10:12).

What does your Higher Power, God, the Universe, Energy, Hashem – whatever you call that Something Bigger – what does it demand of you to detach from what you thought was normal and to live differently?

From me, God demands commitment.  God demands that I walk the path of recovery so that my daughter weathers COVID-19 with her own resilience.  God demands that I trust that my wife is doing the best she can in difficult times.  God demands that I commit to the people of Beit T’Shuvah through our grief for what once was: the Beit T’Shuvah that was, the pre-pandemic life that was, and our dear ones who have crossed over into death.

These commitments help me meet each day as it is, not as I want it to be.  They keep me honest, patient, and compassionate.  And that’s the new and holy normal I want to create.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kerry