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.