When cabin fever hits, some of the most surprising excursions aren’t too far from your own backyard
In real life — I mean regular life — Shabbos is special just because we all stop and come together. But on lockdown, we were together all day every day, so Shabbos got an upgrade: We cooked complicated dishes and baked fancy cakes and made sushi salad and angel hair pasta salad and ambrosia for Shalosh Seudos. Everyone helped. Which wasn’t an advantage.
By the time Shabbos came one week, I was mentally and physically exhausted, which is a socially acceptable way of saying I was just plain fed up. I just wanted some space and quiet, but getting that would mean waking up even earlier than the baby. It was too hard. So I waited until he cried, then scooped him up and stumbled down the stairs before he woke up anyone else.
My husband came downstairs a few minutes later, wished us good Shabbos, and left.
I glanced out the window. I saw a folding table raised on cinder blocks, a tarp stretched over a metal frame. Floodlights dangled over the table, extension cords running to the neighbor’s house.
I went into the kitchen to get a coffee.
The two-year-old came downstairs, bleary with sleep. Ugh, I’m not ready for this yet. I settled him on a chair near the window. Maybe I would still get to drink the coffee.
We watched the minyan coalesce in the gray morning. Did it look like a scene from the fields of the shtetl? Not really, with the brick and stucco Lakewood condos mushrooming over the skimpy patches of grass. The men drifted between parked minivans, like they were uncertain where to put themselves.
“Yisgadal v’yiskadash Shemei rabba!”
Startled, I put down my coffee.
Suddenly, all the uncertainty, the strain, the losses, the fear, stopped banging around in my head and aligned themselves into one coherent thought: Yehei Shemei raba mevorach l’alam u’l’olmei olmaya!
I never go to shul. On Rosh Hashanah I hear tekios at home, on Purim I hear Megillah at a neighbor. On Yom Kippur I daven in my living room. If I’m lucky.
Barechu es Hashem hamevorach l’olam va’ed!
One by one, sleepy children in pajamas pattered downstairs. They wedged themselves around me, on my lap, over my shoulder, peering out the window.
Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Hashem… melo kol ha’aretz kevodo!
A figure materialized down the block, cradling a child covered in a tallis. No, not a child — a sefer Torah! The earlier minyan had finished; now it was our turn.
The baal korei stepped forward and began to lein. I hadn’t left my house in seven weeks, and I hadn’t heard Krias HaTorah in ten years. But here I was, in shul.
Suddenly he lifted the sefer Torah, opened wide, and held it up for everyone to see. A chant rose up. V’zos haTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael al pi Hashem…!
I froze at the window. V’zos haTorah! This is it. Everything I do, everything I live for, everything I’ve given up, everything I teach my kids. So busy, busy, day and night, so tired, always. Exempt from talmud Torah and tefillah, the days such a blur that I don’t even realize I miss it. But it’s like forgetting to eat — you can go and go and go, but it drains you until you’re functioning on empty. And now, here, this is the Torah!
I had felt like the world was over. But then a shul grew outside my window, and it reminded me that the Torah is real and we are connected to Hashem. Everyone else was mourning that the shuls were closed, but I didn’t want them to reopen: That outdoor minyan returned me to the reason for everything I do and everything that was happening, and when I was just about on empty, it filled me up again with strength and peace.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)
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