A Medicine For Loneliness
I’ve been thinking about loneliness.
I think it’s on my mind because the only thing I can compare these last two weeks to is the experience of Covid. And for many of us, especially those of us who live on our own, it was an experience of profound loneliness, and of looking for places of connection to fill a sudden void.
There’s a profound loneliness in this week’s Torah portion, for Noah, who’s called upon to build this ark and save this sliver of humanity and the animal world from the oncoming flood. His experience is like the experience of the prophets of our tradition - of being the only one who sees the truth of what is happening.
I want to say that both those lonelinesses feel relevant to these past few weeks. There’s a profound distance I think many of us feel from loved ones in Israel, a distance which is physical in nature. That physical distance was there before, but it’s so much more apparent now. But there’s also that kind of prophetic loneliness, the sense that we can see something that so many others seem blind to. Sometimes statements that are dismissive of antisemitism or the danger of Hamas seem to be willfully ignorant.
And I want to suggest a medicine for that loneliness - for both the physical loneliness of distance and the prophetic loneliness of witnessing something that seems to go unseen.
The first is this: exactly what we’re doing here: to allow ourselves to be held by community. Whether it is in synagogue services at prayer, or at vigils and memorials, or at the dinner table, the most important of all medicines to loneliness is togetherness. Kol Yisra’el areivim zeh bazeh, all of Israel are mixed up together. It is how we belong. And sometimes that will have to be virtual, will have to be on phone calls and messages and Zoom, but if we have learned anything from that last sense of profound loneliness, I hope it is that we can find togetherness even when we aren’t in the same room.
And the second is this: to refuse to allow the voices of those who do not see us and feel our pain drown out the voices of those who do. We have friends outside the Jewish community. Those who are not our friends would have us believe that we are alone. But we are not.
And a final medicine to loneliness in these times is to remember that to be in relationship with God means to never truly be alone. When the First Temple was destroyed, the Prophet Ezekiel describes the presence of God lifting itself from the Holy of Holies to go with us into exile, to be a “mikdash m’at”, a little sanctuary for us wherever we might go. As it’s described in the Talmud:
תַּנְיָא, רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַי אוֹמֵר: בּוֹא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁבְּכָל מָקוֹם שֶׁגָּלוּ — שְׁכִינָה עִמָּהֶן
It was taught, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: Go and see how beloved Israel is to the Holy Blessed One; that every place they were exiled to, the shekhinah - the presence of God - followed them.
If even Ezekiel, in his prophetic loneliness and at the time of the greatest destruction he could have imagined, could understand that loneliness has a medicine - may we be able to follow his example.
May we know in our hearts that we are not alone and we never have been.