Someone asked me, “How did you become religious?” I answered, “I don’t even know!” Because you see there wasn’t “anything” or “anyone” that made me religious. There was no major event that made me stop in my tracks and change directions. I can’t even put my finger on it. It just “happened.”

I spent my childhood mostly alone. In my home, I was a little girl who was always treated like an adult. I had no one to play with; it was myself, library books, and my imagination. I did have one or two friends, but I never really fit in.

It’s funnyI spent my childhood mostly alone because in spite of this—or actually because of this—I always had a connection with G‑d. I was thirsty for G‑d; it was me and Him.

As I grew older, I went to places and traveled around the world. Wherever I went, I sought out Jews, a synagogue, a connection. But the true connection came from within.

It’s been such a journey—a journey I am still on. Interestingly, I grew most in the places I felt most alone! It was in the places I found myself working hard to maintain my connection with G‑d that I felt, “My goodness, this is so hard! Do I have the strength to do this? Do I have the desire?”

Even now, there are days when I feel like I am just trying to keep my head above water, trying to stay afloat. At the end of a hard day, when I feel so down and like I can’t do anything to be “connected” or “inspired,” I remind myself that in these moments of feeling like “nothing,” I can call out to G‑d. I can ask Him, “G‑d help me! Help me get through this moment or this day. Help me to see the value in what I am doing. Help me to put value in what I am doing!”

And with that thirst for connection—a thirst that comes from inner emptiness—I have found myself so profoundly and completely close to G‑d. I can connect with my prayer. I can connect with my heart and my emotions. I can connect with seeing the beauty around me, and I can connect with whatever action I am doing—whether it’s working, taking care of my home, my children, myself. I am actually surrounded by ways of connection even when I don’t initially recognize that what I’m doing is holy or meaningful.

Over the last many months, so many of the things that we thought we needed to connect to G‑d and spirituality haven’t been possible. Things like going to synagogue; having or being a Shabbat or holiday guest; being with extended family, friends or grandparents; or even going to a Torah class in person.

People experienced holidays totally and completely alone, when it would be understandable to say, “I can’t connect. I don’t have my synagogue, or my rabbi or rebbetzin, who inspires me so much.” Passover and Shavuot were so different, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were “smaller” then I have ever known, but I will tell you something: They were all special, and they made me thirst even more for connection. When you have no water to drink, you become thirsty.

The Torah commands us during the holiday of Sukkot to “rejoice” before G‑d, take the Four Species and shake them in a ceremonial way.1 The sages teach that these four kinds—the etrog (citron fruit), lulav (frond of date palm), hadass (myrtle bough) and aravah (willow branch)—all represent different types of people and different parts of the body. The etrog has a good taste and a nice smell; it is the heart. The lulav tastes, but doesn’t smell; it is the spine. The hadass has a nice smell but no taste; it is the eye. And the aravah has neither taste nor smell; it is the mouth or lips.

You might ask, “Why do we need a plant that has no smell and no taste?” What is needed from those times in our lives when we feel alone, empty or like we have no one nor nothing to connect us? Why is the aravah included amongst the four species?

Maybe because they grow close to the water, and it’s known that the aravah needs water.

What is water?

Water is life. It’s a connection, a flow. Water symbolizes Torah, and Torah is something that is accessible to everyone.

On thisI have no idea what’s in store for us holiday, when we raise all four species, I feel like G‑d is telling us, “There are times you will have inspiration, when your heart will feel connected. You will see something that inspires you and My presence will be felt clearly; it will be obvious and tangible. But then there will be times when you will not have anything. Times you feel alone. Times you will be so thirsty to grow, and you might think that it’s impossible. Those are the times that I want you to call out with your lips and just talk to Me. Those very times are just as opportune to connect to Me in the deepest way possible.”

After such a long summer and the beginning of a long fall, I have no idea what’s in store for us.

Will things return to “normal”? Will they be the same as before? I don’t know. No one does. It’s possible that soon the ups and downs of the coronavirus will be behind us. But even if it takes longer than that, in any circumstance of our life, we have to hold onto the message of the aravah.

By growing near the water, the tasteless and odorless aravah reminds us that in any circumstances and at any location, even when we feel the most bereft, connection to G‑d is always possible.