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I Want to See You … NOT on Zoom!

It's been close to three months now since we started isolating, but this week restrictions eased up somewhat, and I was able to give out cheesecakes to our community in honor of Shavuot. We invited people to come and pick up the cheesecakes from the Chabad center, with masks and social distancing, and I noticed something unexpected.

It was such a pleasure to see everyone in person, even those I’ve been in regular contact with via video chat, phone, and Whatsapp.

I always made good use of social media, but since the quarantine started I’ve ramped it up tenfold, if not more! I give classes, have meetings, talk one-on-one to community members, stay in touch with family and friends and so much more. So the people who came to our Chabad center this week, I’ve seen—and recently! I talk to Jack on Zoom and I speak to Sarah via WhatsApp. Justine and I see each other on Facebook Live and I’ve been in touch with Natalie via phone. But when I saw the four of them, it was different. We were so excited to see each other in person, it was as if we hadn’t been in touch all this time! 

It had me wondering … what’s the big difference?

Zoom is wonderful, and we’re so fortunate to have it (and other platforms like it), but it doesn’t come close to real-life, in-person interaction. There is something compelling about being in another person’s physical presence that social media cannot capture. Even though we weren’t able to touch (no hugs or handshakes!), just seeing each other without the computer screen felt authentic and energizing. 

This weekend we celebrate Shavuot, when the our ancestors demanded “retzonenu lirot et malkeinu - we want to see our G-d!” And indeed, G-d revealed Himself and gave us the Torah. 

The Jews at Sinai demanded nothing less than G-d Himself. They wanted the real deal. They did not want G-d on Zoom. They refused to hear His words via Moses, His emissary. They demanded direct contact. Why? You simply cannot compare the spiritual experience. This is something the Jews appreciated even 3000 years ago. 

So today we turn to G-d and demand the same thing. We want direct contact. We want the virus to end so we can see and hug people in person. But more than that, we demand to see Moshiach, our redeemer, who will bring us to the era when we will finally see G-d and His doings up close and with clarity. 

Happy Shavuot

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

My Recipe for Happiness During Corona

 “Will your camp be open this summer?” 

“How about your preschool in September?” 

“Are we going to get paid at the end of this month?”

“Are we going to have a minyan for Shavuot?”

“Do you think there will be a second, more deadly, wave of Covid-19 in the fall?” 

“When can we go to the pizza store? Or bowling? Or ice skating?”

There are so many unknowns right now. So many reasons to feel frustrated, angry, depressed. 

No one seems to know anything, and the isolation is wearing us all down. 

I’m not used to this. I’m used to running events, a preschool, camp, Hebrew school, lectures, classes, Shabbat services, dinners, parties, and programs. But now my life revolves around my kids, my home, and a couple of Zoom meetings every day. I try to maintain a schedule. I still wake up at 5:00am and run two miles every day, which definitely helps, but is not enough on it’s own. 

And yet, I am happy. 

Of course I have my moods like everyone else, and I am certainly frustrated with the current situation. So how do I do it? Here’s my recipe.

Think to yourself, “What would make me happy today?” 

For me, well … I’d be thrilled if G-d saw fit to bless us with another set of triplets! If our Chabad center suddenly received a $10 million donation, I would be ecstatic. And I wouldn’t say no to a two-week exotic cruise. 

But this kind of happiness is derived from external circumstances. These are things that make me happy, but it doesn’t mean I’m truly happy inside. How do I get that? 

Three words. 

Surrender. Control. Give.

Surrender. I surrender myself to G-d. I know He has a plan and I know that my livelihood comes directly from Him. Yes, right now it seems like our income sources have crumbled, and the more days that go by the harder we will have to work to rebuild. But G-d can provide, even in quarantine. He is not limited by the physical circumstances that limit us. Surrender yourself to G-d and His plan, and you will feel a deep peacefulness replace the anxiety in your chest.

Control. We all like to feel in control, but even when it seems like we are, it’s illusory. We are not in control and neither are our elected officials. G-d is. Every single thing that happens is because He wills it so. The fact that Covid-19 swept across the globe was His doing. And we know that everything He does is for our good, even if we don’t see it at the moment. When we embrace the fact that G-d is steering the ship, instead of trying to counter-steer, we can let go and enjoy the ride.  

Give. Inspire others. I find that when I focus on myself, the misery accumulates, but when I give to others, the happiness can push through. So if you want to tap into that happiness, call and check in on a friend. Send words of encouragement (or flowers!) to someone you know is struggling. Donate to your favorite charity or individual in need. You’ll be helping others and improving your own state of mind in the process. 

Oh, and if you want to make me happy today? Drop a comment and let me know what this article means to you!

Will We Ever Go Back to Normal?

What is normal? If we know anything at all, it’s that the definition has radically changed over the last two months.

Normal used to be commuting to and from work each day, but Corona has forced us to reconsider whether we need to commute at all or if we can work entirely from home.

Normal used to involve eating out multiple times a week, but Corona has necessitated that we learn how to eat primarily from our own kitchens.

Normal used to mean entertainment required broadway shows, movies, and concerts, but we have shattered that notion by entertaining ourselves at home with our families and online Torah classes.

Normal Saturday nights used to mean getting dressed up and going out with friends; now we happily stay in with family, play games, and eat popcorn.

Normal used to be getting dressed up and driving out to attend celebrations. Corona has shown us that we can celebrate via Zoom.

Normal used to be that in order to be happy, we needed to make lots of money, go on vacations, travel the world. Corona has forced us to stop and notice how happy we can be taking life a little slower, staying home with family.

Normal used to mean business must be conducted in person, with lunches and office meetings, but Corona has taught us that we can strategize just fine over Zoom.

Normal used to include the assumption we could plan and schedule months ahead of time. Now we’ve gotten used to living day by day.

Normal used to mean there were answers to simple questions, like “When does summer camp begin?” Now, there are no answers and we’ve learned to live with that.

The truth is, Corona has shown me so clearly what it means to be a religious Jew.

To be Jewish means that whatever I considered normal yesterday cannot be the norm today.

Every day we need to challenge ourselves to defy what we know to be the norm. If yesterday keeping Shabbat seemed beyond my reach, today let me rethink that. Perhaps I can do it. If yesterday keeping kosher was too difficult, let me lean on what Corona has taught me: nothing is impossible. If yesterday learning Torah was not stimulating enough, today I will break that boundary and embrace it.

Every single night when I go to bed, I need to examine my actions during that day and resolve to do things differently the next day. Tomorrow I will be different. I will be kinder and more patient. I will overcome my evil impulses and temptations. And the day after that? I will be even better! Because Corona has taught me to strategize and rethink.

In the face of Corona we feel absolutely powerless. Will there be a second wave? Will there be a cure? Will schools reopen in September? Will there be summer camps? We don’t know. But one thing we do know, one thing Corona has brought to the forefront, is that we can put our trust and reliance in our Father in Heaven. He knows, He’s in control, and whatever He does will be in our best interest.

We wait patiently for the person who will be the ultimate defier of the norm—Moshiach himself, who will heal all the sick, bring a cure to all diseases, and bring peace to the entire universe.

Let’s defy our norm and pray even harder today that he arrives right now.


Have You Passed the Worldwide Marshmallow Test?

I’m finding that the deeper into this Covid-19 isolation we get, the more focused I’ve been on educating my children. This week, my wife and I decided to try the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment on our triplets.

The experiment was first done at Stanford University as part of a study on delayed gratification. The researchers would offer the children the choice between one immediate marshmallow, or two marshmallows if they waited a period of time. The researcher would leave the room, so the children were alone with the marshmallow for a good 15 minutes or so.

We wondered how this would play out with our little ones, so we gave them each a giant marshmallow, with the promise of a second one if they were able to wait five minutes without eating it. The two boys did pretty well and waited obediently, even though they were tempted to take a nibble. My daughter, however, could not contain herself and enjoyed every bite before the five minutes was up, even with one of her brothers repeatedly reminding her not to!

Our experiment was all in good fun, but if you think about it, we all face the marshmallow test every day.

Ask yourself, what’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you grab your phone to check what’s new, or do you take the two minutes to wash your hands and say Modeh Ani? The satisfaction of checking your phone may be immediate, but if you can delay that gratification, training yourself to thank G-d first thing every morning, you’ll see that your life will transform in the long term.

Before you dive into your work emails, take the time to wrap tefillin and pray. You won’t see the results immediately, but over time you will develop an invaluable connection with the One Above.

And consider teaching your children to eat only kosher. The temptation to eat the non-kosher candy may be tremendous, but the self-control they will learn by delaying that gratification will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Keeping the laws of mikvah means you cannot be with your spouse until she dips in the mikvah, but the reward for the wait is a strong and vibrant marriage!

In fact, so many aspects of Judaism are about delayed gratification, it even has its own term: Itkafya.

For the last two months, we’ve all been in a large-scale marshmallow test. Our health experts and government officials have told us we need to remain in social isolation. It’s the only weapon we currently have in our arsenal to fight Covid-19. If we exit our homes we risk becoming sick and infecting others. And it’s hard. We want to go outside. We want to enjoy the beautiful weather, see friends and family, get back to work, go on with life. But if we can just hold on a little longer, we will reap the rewards of a much safer world.

Researchers in the original study followed the children’s progress over the following decades and found that those who resisted the instant gratification turned out to be more positive, self-motivated, and persistent, better able to face difficulties and achieve their goals.

Now, I think my daughter will be just fine even though she technically “failed” the test.

But ask yourself this - did you pass the marshmallow test today?

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