I hope this message finds you all well and in good health.
As you can imagine, this is not the monthly message that I had originally planned to write for the month of April. Originally, I had planned on sharing with you a thought regarding the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh and the particular significance of the month of Nissan. And then, in a matter of days, the entire world as we know it was turned upside down. As we all try to adjust to our new circumstances, the "new normal", I would like to reach out to you with "Five Survival Tips to Staying Sane During Times of Crisis." These are my own personal tips that I have been employing over the past several days to try to adjust to the new conditions that we find ourselves in, as well as to help allay some of the fears and anxieties that, very understandably, have crept into our lives. So, in no particular order, here goes:
1) Follow the rules.
Thank God, we live in a developed country in an era of advanced medical knowledge. We are blessed to have countless doctors and scientists, experts in their fields, who know what is best for us from a human health perspective. If these experts are telling us that we need to practice social distancing and to protect the more vulnerable, then that is what we must do. If they are telling us to be constantly washing and sanitizing our hands, then that is what we must do. Not only will following these rules help to stop the spread of the virus, but it will also help to give us peace of mind as we realize that we are doing our part to protect ourselves and our community.
2) Take time every day to contemplate on gratitude.
What do I have gratitude for today?
I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for the healthcare professionals who are putting their own personal health and safety on the line, working in difficult conditions, often times without basic supplies due to short demand, to help treat this disease. We all share a profound debt of gratitude to these individuals. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Almighty for the infinite wonders that He invested in the human body. We should all have a renewed sense of gratitude for the immune system that works so hard, yet seemingly effortlessly, to fight off potential disease and infection. Personally, I have found that my recital of prayers such as Modeh Ani, so routine throughout my life, have now taken on profound intensity, as I thank the Creator every morning for the amazing gift of Life. Focusing on all of the positive things that we have in life, and not just on the unknowns, could help us improve our state of mind.
3) Set aside time every day to disconnect.
The constant stream of news media throughout this crisis could be overwhelming. It is certainly important to stay abreast of news developments regarding the spread of the virus and the efforts being made to stop it. However, the endless barrage of "doom and gloom" statistics, the horrible images coming in from Italy, and the reports of the political wrangling over the virus in Washington could all be emotionally taxing. The solution? Set aside time every day to focus on something other than the crisis. Turn off your TV and phone for an hour. Read a book that you enjoy or engage in a personal favorite hobby during this time instead. If you don't have a hobby, this is a great opportunity to start one. 24-7 Coronavirus News consumption is probably not psychologically healthy.
4) Go to bed in the right frame of mind.
Sleep is important. At a time of pandemic and global health crisis, getting a good night of peaceful restorative sleep is doubly important. Throughout this trying period, I have found it beneficial to read a positive article or watch an uplifting video right before going to bed. This has helped to ease my mind, thereby enabling a deeper and less anxious slumber. Even in regard to the crisis there are inspirational news items out there about people volunteering and helping in phenomenally altruistic ways. There are articles and videos about the hidden silver lining in this crisis, and about the light at the end of the tunnel. Focus on the positive before going to bed at night. Go to bed on time. Get a good night's sleep.
5) Allow the Almighty into your life.
Ultimately, in a time of crisis, as in all times, we must put our faith in the Almighty and trust that He is kind and merciful. Take advantage of this situation to deepen your relationship with your Healer and Creator. If you were not always in the habit of davening, then get in the habit. If you used to daven once a day, then start davening twice, or three times a day. I can attest that my own davening has taken on a new intensity over the past few days, and I have especially been finding new meaning in the various phrases and prayers peppered throughout the Siddur that describe the Almighty's hashgacha, His Divine providence in this world.
We have an all-powerful Father in Heaven. He cares for us, and He will never abandon His people. Internalizing this idea will surely improve our collective psyche as we battle the emotional stress that this crisis is creating.
In conclusion, I would like to say that we are all in this together, as a community. Be considerate of the needs of your neighbors and friends. Practice acts of kindness with one another. God willing, we will come through this together, and stronger than ever.
May we hear only good news speedily,
Rabbi Peretz Robinson