Learning in Isolation – Part One

Note: Both Rabbi Drill and Rabbi Scheff tested positive for Covid, one week apart, during this uptick due to the Omicron variant. Thankfully, both rabbis had fairly mild symptoms. Rabbi Drill shares her thoughts on the experience of having the virus as she comes out of isolation at the end of today. Rabbi Scheff will share his thoughts in Part Two next week.

I could tell you my story like this: You all could not feel as bad for me as I feel for myself. I finally began my long awaited and much-needed three-month sabbatical and after only three days, I tested positive for Covid. After almost two years of precaution and careful rule following, I have the virus. Not only is my trip to Israel canceled due to the travel ban, but the trip to New England and the yoga retreat I had planned to replace my time in Israel are now canceled as well. Instead of new sights and experiences, I am sitting in my eldest son‘s old bedroom (surrounded by sports pennants and his high school fantasy literature collection) for the next ten days.

I would rather tell you my story like this: You do not need to feel so bad for me. It is true that the beginning of my sabbatical is not what I expected, but how blessed am I to have a sabbatical in the first place? It is true that I got Covid, but I got it at a time when I was boosted, the symptoms were mild, and I have a safe place to isolate. Three meals a day are delivered outside my door, my laptop provides daily virtual yoga and an online sacred chant course. I have my journals and books borrowed from the library. I could call it ten days of isolation, but I choose to call it a ten-day silent retreat.

Our reality is shaped by the narrative we tell ourselves about it. My experience is shaped by my story. I choose to feel blessed and grateful. And so I am. Blessed. And so grateful.

I catch up on magazines I have not had time for since the summer and found many articles to inspire me. I pull out my library of books about the craft of writing and feel more creative than I have in a long time. I keep a daily gratitude journal and take notes of all the learning I am doing in another journal. And of course, I have a journal to … journal! I have time for daily prayer at my own pace. I join OJC for Zoom webinar Shabbat services and feel connected to my unseen community and to God.

The truth is, my goals for the sabbatical can be met regardless of where I am. My goals are about my inner life: presence, curiosity, gratitude and grace. My sabbatical is about shaping myself from the inside out, not the other way around.

This past week, we entered into the book of Sh’mot. This book contains so many big Jewish ideas. It is a book about leaving slavery for freedom, exiting a narrow place for the broad expanses, learning in the wilderness, becoming a people, and receiving God’s Torah. During my isolation, I started considering that the biggest idea of all in the Book of Sh’mot might be something else all together. Perhaps the point of the book is the creation of the Mishkan (the portable, holy tabernacle).

I need to heal; our community must heal; the whole world needs healing of the body and the spirit. This difficult work of leaving behind fear, anxiety and vulnerability requires a sturdy container to hold it all. The Mishkan takes up about one third of the Book of Sh’mot. Minute details of the materials, design and preparation are repeated over and over. Rather than think about the building of the Mishkan as a part of the Torah to merely tolerate, Rabbi Shefa Gold suggests that it is the whole point of the Book. The Mishkan is that place where the finite (we humans) meets the Infinite. God says, “Build for Me a holy place and I will dwell within.”

Perhaps my ten days of isolation have been about building a Mikdash me’at (a small replica of the Holy of Holies) within myself. God dwells within me: in my heart, in my soul, and in my body. I thought that I needed to travel far from home in order to open myself to God. I thought I needed new vistas for my eyes and new experiences for my soul. The truth is, forced into isolation, all I had was myself. And I learned that by opening myself during these days of isolation, there is a place within for God to dwell.

Be safe and well, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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11 responses to “Learning in Isolation – Part One”

  1. Pamela Goldfinger says :

    This was very inspiring . Thank you for your words of wisdom. Refuah shlema Rabbi Drill.

  2. Lloyd X Fishman says :

    So sorry to hear that both of you have COVID. Wishing you a r’fuah shleimah. Our thoughts are with you and your families. Best wishes, The Fishmans

  3. bucklergang@yahoo.com says :

    Rabbi, I always look forward to your posts. Found this one so inspiring. Be well Renee

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Sally says :

    Hi Rabbi, I wrote a comment before but it didn’t go through. I just sent you a message but I don’t know if you are reading them during your Sabbatical. I just want you to know how much I appreciate having you in my life. Even when you are sick you continue to teach, educate and inspire everyone especially me. Of corse I hope you feel better but know you are not alone. Just continue to make the most of everyday because everyday is a gift. As I sit here alone watching the snow I know life is beautiful!. Enjoy today! Sally(Winter)❤️

  5. Helen Kuttner says :

    All good wishes for a r’fuah shleimah, and a healthy 2020 to the whole family.

    The Kuttners

  6. elaine apter says :

    R’fuah Shleima and lets hope that the new year brings both physical and spiritual healing for all of us and it will with your guidance

  7. sheila bunin says :

    You are always an inspiration. We are blessed to have you in our lives. Thank you for sharing so openly your thoughts, your dreams, your prayers. You will come out of this quarantine stronger than ever, and you must know that you have also strengthened the spirits of all of us. Love, Sheila

  8. Annette Diskin says :

    No matter the the state of your life lesson you always impart a lesson for me to learn. The way you turn most everything into a life lesson for us all is amazing to me and you do it with such grace and humility. You are teaching as you usually do. You can open my heart and mind by your very actions and the way you can turn circumstances into beautiful life lessons.
    You are truly a blessing to all and I am so delighted you are in my life. May you continue on your road to recovery.
    Much love and many hugs. Annette (Diskin)

  9. Suzy Trestyn says :

    Rabbi Drill, you are always such an inspiration for all who are lucky enough to have you in our lives. Your insights and reflections are always so positive. You always manage to turn any setback or disappointment into a positive life lesson. I hope that you will have a R’fuah Sheleimah. I am very glad that you are not suffering severe symptoms and that you can finally start to enjoy your well deserved Sabbatical the way you were hoping to originally.

  10. sandi jacobs says :

    sending you a big hug and hoping you feel better real soon! xoxo

  11. Cecile Ruby Hirsch says :

    R’fuah shleimah, Rabbi Drill. Be well and our thoughts are with you and your family. Ruby and Ron

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