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The Importance of Solitude

09/22/2019 06:00:24 AM


Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman

Elul 22 Sept: Week Four
The Importance of Solitude
Create at least one opportunity during the week for solitude (replicable during year).

Last night at our community Selichot service, we chanted a brief line from the book of Lamentations: “Pour out your heart like water” (Lam. 2:19). This is one of the essential images of the High Holy Day season, the idea of our heart cracking open, of becoming vulnerable, and of expressing our innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires within this ancient Jewish framework of self-improvement and discovery.

One important aspect of this High Holy Day preparatory work is to explore the possibilities of solitude. Of course, we probably all know someone who went on a device-free retreat, or appreciated that our kids weren’t allowed to use their devices at summer camp, or forgot our device at home one day and realized that despite the stress of not remembering anyone’s phone number it was a bit freeing to be thus untethered.

Solitude can be about a lot more than our addiction to screens, though. Solitude is also about state of mind, and creating opportunities to look within. In his book Meditation and Kabbalah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan relates the words of the great Hassidic Rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, “Set aside an hour or more each day to meditate, in the fields or in a room, pouring out your thoughts to God .... Every person can express his own thoughts, each according to his own level. You should be very careful with this practice, accustoming yourself to do it at a set time each day” (309).

Every single one of us is worthy of love and respect, and part of our job in this Elul preparation is learning to extend that love and respect to ourselves. Different people, of course, have different needs and personalities. For some people, being alone in the shower is enough of an opportunity for real and constructive solitude, whereas for others life has too many whirlwind responsibilities to allow us to take all the time we might need. This week’s task is to create at least one opportunity during the week for solitude, ideally something that can be replicable throughout the year be it daily, weekly, or monthly.

I will leave you with a few questions to get you started: What mental and emotional tasks are easier to do alone? What are easier to process with others? When we have no screens, books, chores, projects, or other external things to distract us or keep us busy, how do we react? What do we think about? How does it make us feel?

May we all in the rest of Elul and the coming new year be blessed with the patience and care to take the time we really need to take care of ourselves. Amen!

Shanah Tovah,

Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780