If you’re like me, and I’m pretty average, you spent a lot of the past year at home. You started with great enthusiasm, envisioning the closets you’d finally have time to clean, the books you’d finally have time to read. I imagined how much weight I’d lose by cooking all my meals at home. I’d emerge from the pandemic with pristine closets, having read all the classics, and svelte.

The reality was quite different. Yes, I cleaned my closets, but they just got messy all over again. I tried to read more, but my elderly eyes became tired, and I made slow progress on those classics. And please don’t ask about the diet. Ever. My groaning scale says all I need to know. And then some. As I said, I’m pretty average.

Meanwhile, as the months wore on, I found myself kvetching. I wanted to go to restaurants and have someone else do the dishes. I wanted to go to shul on Shabbat and eat those tiny gefilte fish balls on toothpicks that only taste good at the kiddush table. I wanted to go to the zoo. That was a weird craving, as I haven’t been to a zoo in many years, but I longed to watch large, lounging animals (see diet comment above). Every cell in my body cried, “I WANNA GO OUT!!!”

And then, I got the vaccine. Surprisingly, instead of being excited about resuming a somewhat normal life, I felt anxious and unmotivated. Was it really safe to go out? Was there really any reason to go anywhere? I’d grown very comfortable at home, having everything from food to clothes delivered to my door, and socializing by phone and Zoom. I felt safe, cozy, and in complete control within my four walls. Getting vaccinated meant changing that safe and cozy lifestyle. And if there’s one thing people resist, it’s change. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was afraid and anxious about being home. But I adapted to it, and it became comfortable. After the vaccine, I was again afraid and anxious, this time about going out.

Resistance to change is one of the favorite disguises of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). It stirs up our emotions and overpowers our will. It wants you to keep doing what you’re doing, even if it’s no longer good for you. But, as the Tanya teaches, we must train ourselves to not allow our emotions to take control of our actions. This takes practice, and the Torah is our handbook for the exercises needed to develop that strength. It’s filled with actions that govern every aspect of our daily lives. Through repetition and practice, our minds and bodies eventually operate in harmony, like a well-trained horse and rider, while our emotions watch on the sidelines.

I decided to begin with what I missed most: Shabbat services at my Chabad house. That would be my entry back into the world. At shul, the seats are now spaced, and masks are required. I worried whether those changes would bother me. But as I prayed there for the first time in a year, I recalled the statement in the Talmud, “Anyone who is accustomed to the synagogue and does not come one day, the Holy One Blessed is He, inquires about him.”1 And with that thought, it was as if the room itself, filled with G‑d’s presence, sighed in satisfaction at my return. I was home.

My next outing was on Thursday. I went to the local kosher market to shop for Shabbat. I’d done my shopping online for a year, and it was so easy just to click, click, click, on the screen and have everything delivered. Why go through the hassle of going to the store? But, as I walked the aisles, I saw products I’d forgotten about. I’d been ordering the same stuff every week, with no variety. In the aisles, I saw so many other choices. Duck sauce! Chopped liver! Halvah! How could I ever have forgotten about halvah? I knew if my scale was groaning before, it would scream after the gloriously lavish Shabbat spread I’d have this week. I came home, looked at the scale, and said, “You have this week off, kiddo, I’ve got HALVAH.”

Since then, I’ve added many more activities: visiting with friends, Shabbat meals, going to my favorite restaurant, and others. All with sensible precautions, of course. Our Torah tells us to love and fear G‑d. We may sometimes feel one more than the other, but ideally, they are always balanced in the right proportion. In our physical lives, we also feel both love and fear. We fear harm and love a full, active life. Ideally, these are also balanced within us. When they aren’t, we become slaves to our emotions, a sure sign that the yetzer hara has gotten the upper hand.

Even though we may resist change, growing comfortable with our habits, we are also adaptable, able to change when we make up our minds to do so. In fact, it’s that lifelong battle between inertia and motivation that make us human, and separates us from all other creatures. We are not just physical beings, ruled solely by instinct and emotion. The past year has taught all of us that we have the ability to make dramatic changes when necessary. Now we have the opportunity to change again, this time by choice. This ability to choose is G‑d’s gift to us as human beings. Make the most of it.

See you at the halvah counter!