The High Holiday season is a time for teshuva and reflection, to consider where we are and where we ought to be. And while we may be accustomed to understanding the teshuva process as an individual experience, there certainly is room for us to engage in teshuva as a community, particularly this year.
But do we have the strength for that kind of reflection? The pandemic has us all struggling to get by. It would seem like overreach to consider aspirational goals when we face fundamental challenges in areas such as health, employment, daycare, education and anti-Semitism.
Perhaps, however, teshuva does not always need to be exhausting. It may not even involve discomfort and a drive to change but may come instead in the form of a revelation, a refreshing discovery of something that was always there but often overlooked. Indeed, the Maharal of Prague taught that the term “teshuva” is chosen because it implies a return to our purer origins. Rather than adding responsibilities, teshuva restores perspective, bringing us back to a place that is natural, comfortable and healing.
COVID-19 has produced exactly that.
The limits imposed by the pandemic have drastically changed our interpersonal exchanges, affecting our physical interactions outside the home both communally and professionally, as well as with friends and family.
These constraints have created opportunities for more focused and meaningful interactions inside the home, and for more intentional relationships beyond the home.
We have learned both how much we need each other, and how much we appreciate each other.
We have become more aware of the hunger we feel for each other’s company and friendship, and we notice the joy we now experience as we begin to come back together—even when distanced and masked.
We longed for the physical presence of family and friends, for human touch, for the warmth of community. When casual meetings ceased, we deeply appreciated the planned, safe and deliberate experiences of connection with family and friends. When we could be neither hosts nor guests, we developed a profound appreciation for giving and receiving warm hospitality.
Those blessed to have been locked down with supportive and well-functioning others have rediscovered the preciousness of an undistracted home life, free from social and professional distractions.
Those challenged by being locked down with others who are struggling have a renewed appreciation of the support systems—education, medical, emotional and social—that our community provides.
This can be our communal teshuva.
Our COVID-enhanced appreciation for others—friends, family, colleagues, and community—will strengthen all the critical relationships in our lives.
In the aspirational mode of teshuva we aim to be a better spouse, sibling, parent, child, neighbor, friend and community member. In the revelatory mode of teshuva we come to treasure the enormous gift of a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child, a neighbor, a friend and a supportive community.
This year let us resolve to see our world more clearly. Let us resolve to treasure connection, community and each other.
Rabbi Hauer is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (https://www.ou.org/).