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Shake Off the Dust

When quarantine began, it seemed as though everyone was re-establishing New Years Resolutions. People wanted to use their newfound “free time” (if that was even an accurate description) to build a new skill, to get in better shape, to read more, more, more, more. The list of ways in which people hoped to better themselves was long, and it said a lot about the things that we care about; when time slowed down, we saw in new texture the areas we too often neglect in the name of work and the daily grind.

Underlying it all was a desperate need to make meaning. If we could find a way to make this time worthwhile, to put a silver lining on it, to make ourselves somehow productive, we would have an easier time coming to terms with what was happening. We might not be able to understand the scary world in which we suddenly lived, but we could understand how we spent our days.

There was, though, a caution that made its way around the social sphere of the internet. The message reminded us that, during this time of upheaval and struggle, our value was not tied to our ability to produce something, to lose weight, to accomplish a task. The greatest accomplishment would be our ability to maintain good mental health in the face of extreme circumstances.

Of course, the truth can probably be found in some notion of balance. No, we are not expected to create the next great piece of art, but we are invited to connect to the things in life that bring us joy and a sense of wholeness. We have been granted a kind of palate cleanser, the space to find what makes us feel engaged with the world around us when the classic way of doing so is unavailable.

In our Jewish prayers, we see a notion that resonates beautifully with this concept of renewal and re-engagement. L’Chah Dodi is our prayer that welcomes Shabbat each week, decorating the grandeur of the Day of Rest using the imagery of a bride arriving in love. The fourth verse begins, “lift yourself up! Shake off the dust! My people, array yourself in beauty.” In essence, God encourages us to reinvigorate ourselves to meet the beauty of Shabbat with our very own beauty.

I’ve remarked many times during this time of self-isolation that Shabbat is as important as it has ever been. Shabbat allows us the time and space to reflect on how we’ve spent the past week and to think about what we hope for the one that is yet to come. It also helps us to mark our time during a period in which endless days of endless days could drive us mad.

This Shabbat, we are invited once again to consider where we are and where we’re going. Which projects have we begun that added value to our days, and what bad habits are better left forgotten? What practices have brought us wholeness and what duties have left us feeling burdened and unfulfilled.

Just like a New Years Resolution, we are likely to ebb and flow in our commitment to our growth and self-expression. As we settle further into our new reality, we have an obligation to ourselves both to be kind to our own images of identity without setting unreasonable expectations, while also making this time productive in our process of becoming our best selves.

We are not judged by our productivity, but sometimes our productivity gives us the space to express ourselves with beauty and grace. May we be granted the wisdom to know one from the other, and may we strive for the best of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

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