28 Adar 5781

March 12, 2021

We need to name it. It’s a little scary out there right now. The fear that some are feeling as we slowly attempt to move forward towards the next normal. The spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has been deadly to a whole segment of our population, the long incubation and infectious time period that we have experienced, coupled with the lack of symptoms — all feels foreboding. When our stores had empty shelves and large segments of people couldn’t or wouldn’t leave their homes, we came to realize that much of what we took for granted in life was a structure built upon shifting sands. What we thought of as a state of equilibrium was only as stable as the surrounding environment permitted. In some ways, everything that is stable is something that is created. So, we need to name it — our fear and our anxiety. We need to name this sense of the chaos looming over the next rise in the landscape of our consciousness. Let’s name it, so we can conquer it.

In these scary moments you can become paralyzed or you can panic. The voice rises inside of you that says that chaos is the truth of the world, and you are not strong enough or capable enough to overcome this challenge. Your dreams don’t count; your life matters not. This is a voice that can humble even the boldest among us. But if we let it shout too loudly, then rather than just humbling us, it hobbles us. It can even enslave us, like a ghostly Pharaoh with whip in hand.

The most heroic act, the rabbis teach, is the one who can conquer the Pharaoh within, telling you NOT to be afraid and to succumb to your baser instincts. (Pirkei Avot 4:1) The only way to overcome our fear and anxiety is to name it and put some daylight on it. Every moment of fear is also a moment of opportunity. Every moment of anxiety, where doors look closed and you feel shut in, is also a moment to open the windows of your own heart. These moments, as hard as they are, can also be opportunities to become stronger and kinder, to reinvent yourself and to create a world that can be better than the one you found before. It’s the only way worlds are created, not by ignoring the chaos, but by building a world through and over it.

In the story of Creation, confronting the darkness, God called upon the light, and the world came into being. And so it is with each of us at this moment. We can let the chaos stand or we can look upon the fear that is gripping us and cast light upon it. For it is through dark moments like this where we can choose to create something beautiful. As we close the Book of Exodus this week in the portion called Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38), we find the way forward. The Israelites were told to build the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting where the community gathers for prayer and conversation. But just as the moment of construction is to commence, the Torah pauses and gives us the laws of Shabbat. “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh, you shall have a sabbath of complete rest.” (35:2) Just when things were about to get started, the Torah reminds us that our work is not everything, because what matters most is not that you work, but that you remember why you work.

How many of us live to work as opposed to working to live? With the kids being home or you being home, or everyone being home and no one allowed to go about business as usual, there is an opportunity to take stock of your life and ask yourself if the rhythm that I lived before, being busy and being away, is really necessary? For what purpose were all those trips, long commutes and forever-hours in the office? Can this time away from the office be an opportunity to reimagine what it is all for? Can we take the chaos that we feel and create a new world and new self out of it?

While you are still home and feeling unsettled and even afraid, go ahead and ask yourself, what is the dream burning inside your soul right now? How can this moment of craziness be used to reinvent yourself? What if you embraced the idea of your dreams as your identity, and can build a world based on that? There are Pharaohs without and Pharaohs within. As the Book of Exodus closes, we remember that going from being a slave to being free is not just a matter of liberation, but a choice to overcome the fear, and to look out into the darkness of uncertainty, knowing that you can be the one who creates the “New Light!”