The Torah tells us that during their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This pillar signifies God’s presence in their midst. When the pillar moves, they move, and when the pillar stops, they stop.
My colleague Rabbi Leah Doberne-Schor notes that for a good portion of their 40-year journey, that pillar must have been stopped, guiding our ancestors to stay in one place. In those moments, the purpose of the journey was not in the physical walking, but in the active waiting, in the pause.
These times of stopping are fundamental to our ancestors’ journey, including allowing time for Miriam to heal and for the building of the Tabernacle.
These days, in the face of the coronavirus, our normal lives have paused. With the exception of those on the front lines providing health care and sustenance, we have been ordered to stop our regular interactions and activities, to halt our business and our busyness, and to pause.
In a Success Magazine article, Rachel O’Meara notes that the word business has a striking similarity to the word busyness. Both share the same root, a 14th century Old English term, bisignes which means “care, anxiety, occupation”. Whether you are at home or at work, being busy means that you have a lot of activities that occupy your time. When such endeavors are paused, we cease doing and we commence being. This is one of the dualities of the human condition. The doing part in us wants to achieve and strive, to accomplish, to be seen and to make a difference. The being in us wants to emerge, present and aware, happy to exist. Finding the balance between doing and being is different for everyone and both are essential and important pieces of who we are.
When the Israelites are freed from slavery, they are charged with two tasks: the first is to journey to the Promised Land and the second is to become a Holy Nation. The pillar that leads the people to move through the wilderness supports the efforts of their first task- doing- physically moving the people toward Canaan. When the pillar stops, and the people stop, the Israelites are offered a moment of pause- a moment of being- to reflect on their activities, to take note of the community, to reassess their values and to balance out the doing in order to strengthen their spirit and strive toward holiness.
In this moment, when each of us is offered a pause, may we reflect on our own actions, may we take note of the people in our lives and may we bring holiness into our lives and into the world around us.