Dear Rachel,

I’ve been at home in quarantine for a few weeks already. I realize this is to guard my health and save my life, but my quality of living has taken a real nosedive as I’ve lost my source of income. My finances are already strained. I am lonely and getting depressed. I’m not doing anything important with my time and have not yet found another job. I’m isolated from everyone, but most of all, I miss having a sense of purpose and identity.

Got the Corona Blues

Dear in the Pink,

I realize that this time is especially traumatic. Losing a job, even retiring, is always traumatic. It gets us down for a number of reasons, among them:

  1. We lose our sense of identity. Western culture puts so much (read, too much) emphasis on what we do at work that it seems to define us. Oh, you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. So what are you when you’re not working?
  2. We feel like we aren’t making a contribution. Therefore, we aren’t doing anything important. We lack a sense of purpose.
  3. We lose our sense of structure. A job provides a framework for our day, and if we don’t have a job to go to, we may be aimless and waste time.
  4. Our finances suffer. The loss of a weekly or monthly paycheck means that we can’t make ends meet.

But all these reasons don’t really exist. These beliefs are an illusion, and the only thing threatening to make them a reality is our believing them. Let me explain.

1. Our identity is not dependent upon our jobs.

Baby Boomers and Millennials have been changing jobs and careers more than any of their previous counterparts. That doesn’t mean their identity has changed. What you work at does not define you.

Our identity involves much more than our profession. We are spouses, parents, children, friends, mentors and students. We are cooks and pet owners, artists and amateur bowlers. We are talented and funny, compassionate and intuitive. And, most of all, we are here as partners with G‑d to make our world better. View yourself as a Divine creation with a multitude of qualities that right now just happens to be spending a lot of time at home. Work was supposed to be a means to a livelihood, and our profession is a very small part of who we are.

Humans were created in the image of G‑d. The world was created for us—each one of us. Our Divine essence does not get blurred if we are not getting a paycheck.

The Torah allows us to transgress almost all the commandments in order to save or prolong a life, even for a minute—and it does not matter whether the life in question is gainfully employed or is considered a contributing member of society. Although it says that man was born to toil,1 it doesn’t say from 9 to 5 at a specific job, but rather to toil to make our world a better place.

Right now, all of us are engaged in the supreme mitzvah of saving lives (our own and others).

2. Our purpose is defined by the Torah, not by how we earn an income.

Every Jew, regardless of their profession has the same purpose: to serve G‑d by keeping the mitzvot, which also includes being kind to others.

Every day of our lives, we do things to change the world for other people, whether it’s a hug or a smile, a listening ear, a kind word or a helping hand. This is our true calling. As Jews, our purpose is to create a home for G‑d in our world. Our calling card is acts of kindness, which is one of the three pillars the world stands on.

Work often serves as an arena for acts of lovingkindness, but it’s not the only framework we can use. The Torah defines our day through the mitzvot related to studying Torah, eating and praying, sleeping and dressing, giving charity and spending time with friends and family.

Our sense of purpose is dictated to us and fulfilled by us through keeping the mitzvot.

Even being in isolation we can do kindness for others by calling people up on the phone and showing an interest in how they are, praying for others who need our prayers and sharing inspiring, uplifting and funny articles on social media.

3. Create a purposeful day.

Throughout the Jewish sources (like the Code of Law, Ethics of Our Father and Maimonidies), we are given guidelines of how we should spend our days and nights. Some of their advice includes not sleeping or eating in excess, learning Torah, going to sleep early and waking up early, all designed to give your day and life structure.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not due in the office at 9 a.m., still get up early to start a proper day. Eat your meals at regular times. Make time for Torah study and performing mitzvot, and guard your health, which is your biggest gift.

As the Rebbe writes, “Although the Torah and Mitzvoth should be observed for their own sake, they are also the channels and vessels to receive G‑d’s blessings for success in the material aspects of life.”

4. Your boss is not the one who pays your salary. G‑d pays your salary.

Your boss is only a conduit. Because G‑d hasn’t used direct deposit since the manna fell in the wilderness near each family’s tent, we have to go through the motions of “earning” a living.

I’m sure you’ve experienced money miraculously “showing up” unexpectedly just when you needed it. If we bear in mind that G‑d pays our “salary” whether we’re working or not, we’ll breathe easier.

Our yearly income is decreed at the beginning of the year. Live honestly, frugally and gratefully, and use your money for charity and the performance of good deeds. As long as you make a reasonable effort to earn a living (or look for ways to do so), your money will come to you because it is yours.

Nothing, not even a pandemic, can keep money destined to be yours from you.

Wishing you good health, peace of mind, success in your endeavors, and may you always find grace in the eyes of the Boss.