June 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From Behind the Mask: When a Day Turned Into a Year

As I sat in shul this past Shabbat and listened to Rosh Chodesh bentching for the month of Adar, I couldn’t help but think about how I’ve generally interpreted the phrase “V’nahafochu.” If someone would have told you a year ago what our lives would look like this year, you simply would think they were off their rocker. In many ways, the only way to describe what has happened is that exact phrase of v’nahafochu. While we think about the trauma and pain we have all endured during these months, many have been zoche to channel the negative into extreme growth and positive reactions—while many more have not. The residual effects of this experience will be in our souls for many more years to come. And each and every person—young and old—will continue to feel the impact incredibly differently.

Some people and communities are back to their pre-Adar 5780 lives. Schools, shuls, social gatherings and shopping all look the same. There are likely many individuals within those communities still working through the trauma of a loss suffered, and we daven that everyone is getting the emotional support they need to work through that pain. Alternatively, there are communities where the opposite is in effect. There is still incredible caution and fear, and people are incredibly makmid to continue to be socially distant unless absolutely necessary.

In both cases, I really do hope that any “growth” a person was able to accomplish during this time can stick with them for the long haul. And while my frame of reference for this obviously lies within the Jewish Orthodox communities, based on living in the world and seeing the news and talking to colleagues, the same experience is happening globally. But in both these situations, people have opted to make decisions that work for their lives and were likely made in a thoughtful way that works for their lives—not your life—their life.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how much information we have been flooded with over the past year. VERY often, I write about the idea of everyone being entitled to make decisions that best work for them, and how we all owe it to each other to respect decisions our peers have made.

But behind these ideas is the decision-making process. Each day we likely make thousands of decisions—from the simple ones like what to have for breakfast, to the major ones like deciding whether to take the coronavirus vaccine offered now or hold out for the one-shot vaccine. Then there are the decisions we don’t realize we are making, such as our tone of voice and the facial expressions we unconsciously display. While each of those decisions could be made in a span of a day, the experiences of our entire lives impact every single decision we make.

In those early quarantine days, even the little decisions were incredibly overwhelming. I remember breaking into tears when I couldn’t decide if I should try a new brownie recipe. Then there were all these weird decisions that only came up because of quarantine. Should I really leave my packages untouched for three days? I haven’t seen that friend in ten years—will it really be meaningful to be menachem avel on Zoom? Should I be reconfiguring finances? Am I going to attend that simcha? Am I going to send my kid away to camp?

And then I relish in the small decisions! For anyone who knows me well, you can almost figure out how I will make the following decisions: Do I eat the whole brownie with the new recipe at 11:30 at night? (Duh.) Do I take Route 80 or the Turnpike? (Toss-up each time I head to the GWB.) Do I wake up early to daven? (How’s mincha? Shorter, better schedule.)

While we think we are making these decisions in the present moment, everything in our lives up until this point is influencing how we make such decisions. With the overwhelming amount of information that has been thrown at us this past year, making decisions has been even harder. More importantly, we look at other people’s decisions and wonder how they came to them and why they think it’s actually a good decision. And while we are all still overwhelmed with information, we still need to justify how we make our decisions in order to feel validated that in fact we made the right decision.

No matter how much emunah you thought you had, it is still hard to fully believe that we are always making the right decision and in some way Hashem will carry us through. For anyone who has gone through a medical crisis, this past year could have been a full year of PTSD and anxiety when you feel like you are in survival mode and all decisions are more reactively, with minimal thought and precision. Alternatively, that medical crisis could have given you tools to have a tremendous amount of clarity (or as much as you could have with so much unknown) and the ability to filter information to make a healthy decision that works for YOU.

For most of us the month of Purim and the idea of dressing up behind the mask reminds us of a holiday that elicits positive feelings of joy. While there are many sources explaining why we dress up on Purim, one that struck me is that we need a reminder that most of the miracles of Purim occurred within mundane circumstances, so they were hard to see on the surface. We are forced to look deeper in order to fully appreciate the greatness of the day and truly value the miracles that occurred.

If we look at the decisions that Esther and Mordechai made as we listen to the Megilla in a few short weeks, it’s simply not possible to understand how they made the decisions they made—none of the facts that we can see from our view seem to align with the decisions they ultimately made. But it’s those decisions that saved our nation—and that’s what we have to internalize this year. We are all lucky enough to have unique lives, which leads to my unique relationship with Hashem and how I choose to navigate the world He created for me. While our worlds may look very similar on the surface, it’s not possible for anyone to know what is going on in my heart and soul and how that impacts my outlook on life and the decisions I make.

While the masks we’ve been behind all year elicit fear of the unknown, life behind the mask has also given us privacy and the ability to navigate these challenges from the safety of our own homes. There is an aspect of all of our lives that has always been masked. We decide how we want to portray ourselves to the world, and we hope our subconscious actions are consistent with those conscious decisions.

A very smart and insightful friend had this thought: Maybe this Purim, we need to decide how to start taking off the masks in a healthy way and make choices about how to compensate for what they have been covering this whole time.


Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles