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Loneliness and the Half Shekel

​This Shabbat we mark Shabbat Shekalim to commemorate that every person was commanded to give a half-shekel for the upkeep of the Temple.

Everyone gave the same amount, regardless of whether they were rich or poor, nobility or commoner. There is a beautiful message in that: everyone is considered equal before G-d.

Even though we are all individuals and can stand alone, the ideal is not to be alone. We all come from Adam and Chava, and as a result, are equal in our ancestry.

But it was not good for Adam to be alone, he needed a companion.

Each person gives the half-shekel, and those half-shekels add up to a much greater whole. So each person is distinct as an individual, but we complement one another.

Entering a relationship allows us to be closer to someone and find a companion. But it also makes us vulnerable and susceptible to getting hurt.

Studies have shown that people with companions live longer​. ​ We are communal beings and we need social networks and social support. Some of us, however, have barriers that prevent us from connecting at a deep level, and this creates loneliness. Mindfulness can help lower or remove those barriers.

​University of Chicago researchers investigating the neuroscience of loneliness found that a lonely brain is​ overly​ in-tune with social cues, ​especially​ the ones signaling a social threat. ​People who feel lonely are subconsciously scanning their environment for hostility​ and threats​, which may​ minimize ​their connecting to positive social experiences​. ​According to the study, people who experience loneliness should " get out of their heads''.

In mindfulness practice, we notice our mind and thoughts, but train ourselves to pay attention to body sensations in the present moment.​ We can train ourselves to become more aware of ​ our thoughts and ​feelings, such as vulnerability and lack of trust, ​which prevent us from connecting with people​. Mindfulness ​can ​give us tools to identify the triggers of those ​thoughts or ​emotions, and helps us manage them​.

The contribution of the half-shekel illustrates that each individual is important on his/ her own, but that each person is also part of something bigger than themselves. Knowing that we are part of a larger community can alleviate loneliness and give existential meaning to our lives.

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