Over the past couple of weeks we have carefully emerged from our homes as we try to navigate this new version of normal we are now living in. We no longer approach a trip to the grocery store as a potentially life threatening event, but we’re still not sure about having people in our homes or attending a crowded wedding. The fact that many of our children still don’t have definitive summer plans when even the carpools have been locked down until Chanukah has certainly thrown every suburban mother into a tizzy. And then there are so many others who have still not been able to catch their breath, between caring for family members or figuring out how to work productively from home.
We’ve realized that flipping back to our lives as we knew it a mere four months ago is no longer an option, due to a very real approach to keeping the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh. While the new Tehillim names have thankfully diminished, the memory of the live streaming levayas have not. We all know someone in aveilus, and the trauma we are still living through is very real. I cried then, and then I cried some more. This all just seemed to be too much for a human to live through. From school and work, to shivas and simchas, many of our human interactions transitioned, almost immediately, to a two-dimensional experience, and it seems like it might stay like that for quite some time. Instead of keeping an extra lipstick and mascara in my car, I now keep it next to my computer as I still live on Zoom. How can this be our new normal?
We may have had the opportunity to accomplish things in our home, and along the way had a chance to learn new things about ourselves or the people in our family or even a new life hack. For example, I have learned that you really can just add wet clothes to the dryer even if there are dry clothes already in the dryer from three days ago that you just forgot about. And that it’s actually easier for me to print out the recipe than follow it from my computer.
I also realized that I couldn’t be dependent on the foundation of my shul and school for my spiritual pendulum. This was a common theme as I watched so many families figure out how to reignite the spark of the relationship with Hashem when we couldn’t help but feel abandoned by the closures. I have been incredibly grateful to have the most amazing “quaranteam” who truly allowed my family to have an incredibly engaged and even uplifting quarantine experience. This enabled me to have this time to learn more about my relationship with tefillah and had the opportunity to actually look at the words I’ve been mumbling over all these years.
While most of our prayer experience is filled with divrei hoda’ah (words of thanks), it’s not until Shemoneh Esrei where we really have the chance to ask for things. In the first bracha we establish our lineage and remind ourselves that we are praying to the same God as our forefathers. We’ve spent a few moments davening for sustenance and parnasa and to return to Yerushalayim. By the time we get to the last bracha, we’re using the word “sim,” or “establish,” which means we are already at a place with God where we feel comfortable using more direct language with our requests. Although shalom traditionally means peace, I’ve generally interpreted it as something more than physical peace between two people, but also an inner peace—or calmness—within myself.
Simultaneously, I find this time to be when I realize I only have about another minute to squeeze in everything I had intended to pray for and I had better get it together. And now we have this bracha that encompasses it all by asking for peace and good and kindness and mercy. We are about to start our day with a fresh start. These past few months I’ve been attached to this bracha more than any other time in my life so that I stay calm and somehow have the bina (understanding) to make decisions with a clear head. These few months when literally nothing has been in our control, I’ve adjusted my approach to my emunah and realized that the only way to really maintain the belief and trust in Hashem is to have this kind of shalom in my home, my family and, most importantly, my mind.
As the evening comes, the words of this bracha change ever so slightly. This is generally the only time of day I actually find the physical time and the mental headspace to be able to open a siddur. This time our prayer for peace is even more succinct and we add in the magical word “l’olam.” Maybe our day didn’t go as planned and was anything but peaceful. During these few months, we were going through so much that each hour felt like a whole new experience.
So now we daven for that peace to last forever, “tasim l’olam,” because tomorrow is a new day and then a new week and then a new year.
This past Shabbos I was lucky enough to be in shul and then I cried some more. Although I was so excited to be there and have a chance to daven with a kehilla, it was just not the same and I just don’t know when it will ever be the same. We are still living in highly uncertain times and I’m sure there will be many more tears. But you know what? That’s OK. Fear of the unknown doesn’t mean you don’t have inner peace; the two are not mutually exclusive. The same way no one could have predicted all this four months ago, no one can predict what will be four months from now. All we can do is dig deep and pray hard to have that shalom to navigate whatever Hashem throws at us.
Rachel Zamist has lived in the Passaic community for the past 32 years and has watched it grow and transition. She is the beaming mother of Mimi, a student at Rachel’s own alma mater, YBH.