The Psychospiritual Lesson of Social Distance

Is there a spiritual reason we’re facing enforced, or encouraged, social distancing? Why can’t we spend time with extended family, neighbors, and friends the ways in which we used to? We can’t even pray together! Why?

Is this distancing perhaps midda keneged (facing a response that is similar in kind to our initiating action, what goes around comes around)? Did we lack compassion towards others and separate ourselves from their pain (or even their joy?)

Did we feel separate from them, beyond, above or apart? Did we feel they looked down on us or did we look down on them?

Did we have negative thoughts about them when we were together and couldn’t wait to leave their company?

Did we find their POV intolerable? Their politics? Their approach to Torah?

Maybe because we didn’t want to be close to our brothers and sisters now we can’t be close to them.

There are as many insights into the psychospiritual lessons of Coronavirus as there are individuals, and perhaps each person can learn several lessons from current events.

Rebbe Nachman says we can always start over, so let’s start over with Azamra.

There are many positive responses to learning Azamra, Rebbe Nachman’s foundational and lifechanging lesson 282 in Likutey Moharan. Most of them are positive. But I’ve noticed two responses that stymie growth at the outset:

Azamra Response Type One: Mud-colored Glasses

I don’t have a problem forgiving myself and overlooking my own faults, but I find it way too easy to see everything wrong with everyone else, including even my good friends. Their clothes, their hair or head coverings, their shoes, their personalities, their weight, their children, the way they raise their children, the things they do, the things they say, the things they believe…

I immediately think the worst of others, and always jump to conclusions. I know I’m supposed to give the benefit of the doubt, but if I’m being really honest, I just can’t seem to. My critical voice clicks on and…

I can’t say I’ve ever had a really good honest thought about anyone else—I always seem to see or remember the bad stuff they do. And if someone does something that seems good, I pick it apart until I find what’s wrong with it (even when it’s my daughter, my sister, my husband…)

I only see the good in others when I am getting my way or they are doing something for me. The minute someone doesn’t do what I like, I can’t seem to remember anything good about them. My husband can put his clothes in the hamper 364 days a year, but I only seem to remember the one day he forgets. My Shabbat guest can help me serve, and the one time she doesn’t, I feel resentful.

If someone from my community, especially my immediate circle, makes an error, I can be forgiving (I might have to force myself but I can do it.) But if  anyone from another group does something bad, I feel they should be punished heavily for it. (Or vice versa.) I’ll even bad mouth them and convince myself it’s not lashon hara.

Azamra Response Type Two: The Broken Mirror

I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror.

I judge myself very harshly because I see what’s lacking.

I know how truly bad/petty/mean/empty/unloving/unlovable I am inside.

If I do something good, I know my real motivations aren’t so great and I’m doing it to get something (respect, praise, koved–honor, a reputation for being saintly or a martyr or more talented than others, and so on).

I know I really need to improve my speech, my thoughts, my motivation and energy, my prayers, my…but I’m so overwhelmed. I’d rather just eat something or read a book or organize my desk.


In actuality, these two types of viewpoints are fun-house mirror reflections of each other. If we haven’t integrated Azamra, the lesson that Rebbe Nachman called a yesod gadol, a big foundation, then sometimes we primarily have a negative view of others.  Or, sometimes we primarily have a negative view of ourselves. Or, we have a negative view of ourselves and others, simultaneously.

When we gaze through mud-colored glasses, we have a hard time finding the good in others and openly condemn them.  Those dingy spectacles filter out the good in others, and we are only able see bad. These psychic glasses distort reality.

This is called projection.

When we project, we take our own negative feelings about ourselves and send that mass of darkness outwards so we don’t have to deal with it. 

Why do we do this? The yetzer hara, the negative inclination, is very convincing. If the problem is other people, then we don’t have to work on our own stuff. We don’t have to grow spiritually or emotionally because, after all, we know we can’t change others. So, we think we might as well give up.

When we gaze into a broken mirror, we have a hard time seeing the good in, and may even openly condemn, ourselves. I’m no good. I’m all bad.

This, too, is a distortion of reality.

And, this is called depression.

When we’re depressed, we usually* believe the problem is “me” and I’m unfixable. What I’ve done I cannot undo. This is the way I am and I cannot change. I’ve done so much wrong, I’m so stuck, I might as well give up. I cannot improve.

With both projection and depression, change is not possible. Plus, our inability to focus on the good points (in others or ourselves), leads to psycho-spiritual dissonance, reality is fuzzy and painful. We become trapped in a fallacy palace, one where anxiety, despair, bitterness, and sorrow reside.

Both projection and depression are ways in which the yetzer hara consus into believing that we are all alone, God is not with us, and we might as well just give up.

But Azamra will show us that we don’t have to give up.

Learn Azamra and you’ll find how this practice empowers you and brings you to joy.

*Depression may also be a feeling that we are powerless to change our situation, that we are trapped. Powerlessness, however, is also a form of feeling bad about ourselves. If we are powerless, than we don’t believe anything, including our prayers, are able to effect change.




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