| Parshah |

Solitary Confinement

Solitude need not entail mystical practices or spiritual techniques. Rather, solitude provides an opportunity for thinking and concentrating deeply without the undue influences of one’s social surround.


“…The Kohein shall quarantine the [person with the] lesion for seven days.” (Vayikra 13:4)

o man is an island.”
“It takes a village.”
These clichés are used to convey the importance of realizing that people cannot “go at it alone.” But it’s equally vital to recognize the benefits of occasional solitude and of the need to sometimes just be alone.
This week’s parshah discusses tzaraas, understood by our sages to be the consequence of immoral behavior, particularly malicious gossip. The Torah prescribes that this individual’s dwelling must be outside the camp of Israel. 
Opinions vary as to why he must be removed from society. I prefer the view that believes that solitude is imposed to afford [the sinner] an opportunity for thoroughgoing introspection — to think, reconsider his actions, and resolve to live a new moral lifestyle (Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Torah).

The term quarantine has taken on a new dimension since Covid. Years ago, the word would’ve conjured images of the early 1900s, when sickness was rampant and quarantines were the best route to contain them. But just a few years back, as Covid raged through Eretz Yisrael, quarantine, or bidud as it’s called here, became a way of life.

Israel was very strict with its bidud laws, and in the early days of the pandemic, the restrictions and the police checks only compounded the panic and fear.

It was during these early months that my whole family got Covid. Everyone, that is, except for me. Faced with the prospect of trying to quarantine everyone in the family, we made the decision that only I would quarantine, alone in my room, for two weeks.

In retrospect, I still don’t know if I did the right thing. I had two single daughters living at home then, so the house was running and the younger kids were cared for, but it was torture hearing the background noises of my home humming from behind my door, while I was powerless to step in.

William Deresiewicz delivered an essay to the plebe class at the US Military Academy at West Point last year. He eloquently conveyed to these future military leaders the message that leadership demands a mindset which necessitates frequent and sustained periods of solitude. He writes: “Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it.”

The first few days passed with me antsy and pacing, trying to keep my finger on the pulse with frequent phone calls to give directions.

Over the next few days, I realized, with a blow to my ego, that they were all managing without me.

This realization was followed by crashing, mind-numbing boredom. I was a prisoner and had absolutely nothing to do with myself. I organized my closet for Pesach (wasn’t I virtuous?), sorted photos that were years old, and reread countless old books.

By the end of the first week, I was silently going mad and wondering if being sick wasn’t a better option. My family all had mild cases of Covid, while my solitary confinement was bringing on a not-so-mild case of insanity.

Our tradition goes beyond that and teaches that solitude is necessary for spiritual growth and for religious leadership.
Our sages insist upon the necessity of cheshbon hanefesh, self-reckoning. Chassidim, most particularly followers of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, engage daily in periods of hitbodedus, solitary contemplation.
Solitude need not entail mystical practices or spiritual techniques. Rather, solitude provides an opportunity for thinking and concentrating deeply without the undue influences of one’s social surround.
The Torah, in the midst of a passage which seems most out of tune with modernity, gives us a lesson essential for coping with modernity.

And then sometime during the second week, a sense of peace settled over me. I had nothing to do. Nowhere to go. It was a revelation. I sat, staring into space, and let my mind wander. I thought about how much I valued my family, with all their demands and busyness. I appreciated my day-to-day life. And I missed it. I focused on the brachos Hashem had bestowed upon me, and the many things I was thankful for every day, all day.

By the time I gratefully unlocked my door and stepped out to hug my family, I wasn’t the same person. Baruch Hashem, I hadn’t gotten Covid. But I had gotten a unique opportunity to be alone. Still, I hadn’t been completely alone. I had me, myself, and I.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 889)

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