Differentiating Time and Space: Spiritual Advice for Those Working from Home during COVID-19

As my colleagues are well aware, Jewish tradition makes a very big deal of drawing distinctions, at least in the earthly realm in which we currently reside. I’m not sure I’ve ever understood as fully the vital importance of that capacity as now, when most of us seem to be living in undifferentiated time and space; in time, in response to seemingly unending information about and need to respond to COVID-19, and in space, most of us are now relegated, to shut-in status (and what a rare opportunity for growing compassionate understanding!).

We eat, sleep, work, play, laugh and cry all in the same space. Perhaps you too have read advice suggesting that during this time of working at home, it is wise to pick a designated space—not the bedroom, if possible—set aside for work. I invite us to experience this as an act of mitzvah for performing the work of mitzvah to which you are committed. Make a space, sacred to the work and, equally, designate the rest of your space as sacred to non-work. After all, that too is holy (think Shabbat). And, while thinking Shabbat, to the extent possible, you may find it helpful to draw similar distinctions in time—again, to the extent possible. We need a little Shabbat, in space and time, every day.

Finally, consider the possibility of ritualizing the entry into and out of work space/time; a havdalah of sorts, in which to prepare yourself for what is required and offered distinctly in each of the two spaces. Perhaps take a moment to meditate, or offer a kavanah or a blessing—something that will help you to remember the sacred space/time of work and the sacred space and time of laying down that work and allowing yourself…to breathe. And may you be strengthened in and for all the good you are and you do.

Rabbi Rex D Perlmeter, LSW, is the CCAR Special Advisor for Member Care and Wellness.

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On the Eve of Thanksgiving, Further Post-Election Reflections

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting deeply and with profound movement of spirit and heart upon two weeks of listening, processing and holding the feelings raised by the election. In my role with the CCAR, it was a tremendous privilege to help organize the call we offered to our members and to share in the leadership of that call with our insightful, skilled and heart-open colleague, Ellen Lewis. All that Ellen taught us that day has remained present to me in the passage of these weeks and has helped immensely. To summarize a couple of key points, Ellen reminded us to be attentive to the truth of our own feelings and to remember that those feelings can inform how we act but need not control our actions. She invited us to self-care and compassion, and to hold close the knowledge that, in times of heighted feelings (particularly anger, fear and anxiety), we are all prone – and this includes those we serve – to acting out and displacement. I know those teachings will have proven helpful to those who were on the call (or who availed themselves of the recording as found at on the CCAR member’s site) as they have to me.

Upon reflection, I have a couple of additional thoughts to offer, particularly to those who have been in pain over the results. First, I have felt and noticed heard people speak of feelings that resemble those of mourning. And I would caution us against buying too fully into that metaphor. As many of us know from pastoral work, when someone is gravely – even life-threateningly ill – it is not uncommon for people to slip into anticipatory grief. It is almost as though the psyche is saying, “If I just experience the anger or the sadness now, maybe I won’t fall into despair when the inevitable death happens.” And it is a dangerous place to go. Chevre, the patient(s), our own souls and the soul of our country are gravely wounded, but the wounds have not yet proven fatal nor even been pronounced mortal. As was the case after 9/11, certain ideas we had about how things were may well have died two weeks ago, or at least been seriously altered. But we are here, as is the nation. We need to avoid falling into the anticipatory grief which will prevent us from doing whatever is to be our tikkun in responding to the wounds.

And one piece of the tikkun – in the framework of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, especially on this eve of Thanksgiving, we can be looking for the od m’at (see Psalm 37) – the little place where evil/despair/rage do not hold sway, and from that little place “azamra l’Elohai b’odi” (Psalm 146) sing our way into inviting abundance back into the world – abundance of love, of hope and of commitment to justice. On this Thanksgiving, may the little place sing to each of us and help us inch our way toward healing and sacred purpose. And then, back to the work.

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter is CCAR Special Advisor for Member Care and Wellness

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A Reminder of Some of the Most Important Work We Must Do

As I move more deeply into my third year of working with the CCAR to provide companionship and guidance in the area of self-care, the Yamim provided an opportunity to reflect upon my tremendous gratitude for this privilege and the gifts it brings me every day. Among those – the opportunity eight years after leaving pulpit work to offer something to those of you who continue to shoulder that rich, rewarding and challenging responsibility. I also find myself reflecting upon the toll the work and all that goes with it can take upon us, and how that has played out in the lives of some with whom I have worked since entering into this role with the Conference. One thing that rises clearly for me is the awareness that a primary source of the pain I encounter in some of our colleagues is the result, in no small part, of inner personal work set aside in the face of professional demands, which feel more immediate and – often – overwhelming.

And yet, dear friends, we all know somewhere in our gut that the external work will eventually suffer for inner work not done. Last year I posed to you the question, “What am I doing or should I be doing to set my own spiritual and psychological house in order and to make sure that it is a Sukkot shalom?”.  The last couple of years, sitting with ever more of you, confirm me in the clarity that the cheshbon nefesh in which many of us feel there is no opportunity to engage during the Yamim must, nonetheless, happen – v’im lo achshav, eimatai? If we fail to do it, the apparent security of the structures we have erected in our lives – families, marriages, careers – are at risk of rot and ruin. Those external sukkot are, ultimately, only as strong as the inner sukkah of our souls.

So, once again, I invite you into conversation. This can come about through the possibility of one-on-one work in short-term spiritual direction or counseling or through participation in offerings I coming forth over the course of the next year, such as the online Mindfulness Class beginning October 26th. As we head into this Shabbat Sukkot, we remember the oft-told tale of Zusya, lamenting the fact that he wasn’t Moses. Neither are we, and if even Moses couldn’t do it alone, as we read in the parashah this Shabbat, how can we hope to do so. We need those quiet moments, to be sheltered in the sukkah of the cleft of that rock, to hear and feel the message of companionship and support which is a manifestation of Holiness in our lives. It will be my honor to share such moments with you. Hoping to hear this year from many of you, I wish all of you a joyous, healthy and fulfilling 5777 in which you are able to set free sparks of holiness and healing for all, Mo’adim l’simchah and Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter, LSW is the CCAR Special Advisor for Member Care and Wellness, providing short-term counseling or spiritual direction to rabbis in need. He can be reached at or 410-207-1700.  Rex will be leading “Building a Jewish Mindfulness Practice” webinar series with CCAR, starting Wednesday, October 26 — sign up now!

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Setting Free Sparks of Holiness

From a recent session with a colleague – shared with her permission: “I’m so busy planning and preparing to make sure they are able to do their cheshbon nefesh, I feel as though I’ll have no opportunity to do my own.” I wonder how many of us come out of the experience of the Yamim with similar feelings. As much as I was able usually to pray while leading from the pulpit, I remember only rarely feeling that I had been able to go into the deep, introspective and spiritual work for which the season calls during my pulpit years. No longer carrying that responsibility, I am able to bask in my appreciation for the work and effort put in by our colleagues facilitating the spiritual journeys of our people through these challenging days. (This year, I want to take a moment in particular to raise up the energy expended upon the unique creative opportunity offered by Mishkan Hanefesh  – I’m hearing amazing things about transformation through this machzor, but we all know it would not have been possible without tremendous engagement on the part of all of you!)

Taking all these things into account, this seems to me a most appropriate time to remind our members of the Care and Wellness for which I have been engaged by the Conference on your behalf. Having poured out so much energy in the spiritual care of our people, could there be a better time to avail yourselves of the fruits of your labors than by taking some time now for the self-care and growth support offered as a benefit of your membership?

So, just to remind our members, I am serving the CCAR at the behest of staff and board leadership, as part of my internship requirements in pursuit of a Masters in Social Work. I am also a trained Spiritual Director and Jewish Mindfulness teacher. From among these disciplines, through me the CCAR is offering you a variety of opportunities. Our next online Jewish Mindfulness class begins October 20; we will soon be inviting one of our communities of practice to consider joining a pilot program in Peer Supervision. We also look forward to offering an introduction to Spiritual Direction later this year, followed by a short-term pilot group opportunity in that practice.

I invite you, in the spirit of this season, to ask of yourself, “What am I doing or should I be doing to set my own spiritual and psychological house in order and to make sure that it is a Sukkot shalom?” Not only do we deserve to ask ourselves this question for our own sake – ultimately, we owe it as well to those we serve, in whatever capacity.  To that end, I remind you of my enthusiastic availability to offer short term (approximately 8 sessions) therapeutic or spiritual direction work to any member of the CCAR in good standing. For all you’ve done, do and will do to serve the Source of our Being and our people, I open the doors of my heart to invite you to avail yourself of this gift. Hoping to hear this year from many of you, I wish all of you a joyous, healthy and fulfilling 5776 in which you are able to set free sparks of holiness and healing for all and an early Mo’adim l’simchah.  

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter is currently pursuing a MSW at Columbia University and will be doing a year-long internship with the CCAR, providing short-term counseling to rabbis in need. In addition to his MSW work, Rex brings extensive experience working with rabbis through his years at the URJ and is a trained spiritual director. Learn more.

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APA Mental Health Guide for Faith Leaders

The American Psychiatric Association has just released new resources on mental health for faith leaders. Thanks to our colleague Rabbi Edie Mencher for bringing these new materials to our attention. The linked resources are invaluable gifts from a partnership between the faith community and the American Psychatric Association (not to be confused with the American Psychological Association, in our awareness for very different and disappointing reasons this week.) The deeply informative manual as well as the supplementary quick reference guide should be required reading for all of our rabbinic work. For those serving in congregations, I call your attention in particular in the manual to the section on wellness, as well as the second portion of the manual focused on ways the congregation can become even more responsive to mental health issues.

I offer two additional foci for your consideration. One, mentioned briefly on page 17, cannot be underestimated. That is the power of the pulpit. On these kinds of issues, your power to open hearts and provide illumination is immense. I know of several of our colleagues who have spoken recently, often from very personal perspectives, of grief, depression and other mental health issues. They have reported to me the impact of these interventions and can feel the depth of the service they have provided.

The other focus, not mentioned explicitly, is of equal import. I speak of the importance of self-care. And, in this case, I am not back on my soapbox about wellness practice. Rather, I am referring to the importance of attending to our own mental and spiritual fitness when we are engaged with helping others attack these issues in their own lives. From compassion fatigue, through vicarious trauma to triggering of deep-seated conflict, our work both puts us at risk and REQUIRES of us that we make sure we are staying attuned to our inner lives and how they are affected by that work.

So, please, read the materials referred to here, and also take an inventory of your current state and support systems. And, as always, if you’d like to discuss these or any matters, please reach out by e-mail anytime at

A Prayer of Healing for Mental Illness – check out this PDF from Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides from CCAR Press.

Rabbi Rex D Perlmeter is the CCAR Social Work Intern for Member Care and Wellness

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Rabbinic Soul Maintenance

I recently met with a colleague who informed me that she really doesn’t like to ask God for help, especially during Tishrei, because there’s already so much on God’s plate. It reminded me just a little bit of the old story with the punchline, “look who thinks she’s nothing?” I am reminded as well of a poignant piece by Jacob Staub on the difficulty of asking for help, available at “And it is, for many of us, so difficult to ask for help. We may feel things slipping away from us, or the color bleeding from life. But all too often we wait until everything has already hit the fan to pick up the phone and say, ‘I need you.’”

Seth Bernstein posted a beautiful contemplation regarding the gift that Ruth Alpers and he offer our members as the Hotline rabbis of our CCAR Rapid Response team. I am honored this year to be able to join them as CCAR Intern for Member Care and Wellness, as part of my training at the NYU School of Social Work, where I am pursuing an MSW. Seth offered up a list of the kinds of issues which might prompt you to pick up the phone and call one of the three of us. Additionally, I invite you to attend to the basic question of soul maintenance – how are you holding up on a day-to-day basis in the face of all you shoulder personally and professionally? We would never hesitate to encourage a congregant who tells us she is feeling listless or he is feeling joyless to consider speaking to a therapist? But how many of us wait until something has gone dreadfully wrong. Are we sufficiently attuned to the weight of compassion, fatigue and, even, vicarious trauma on our psyches?

Dear colleagues, you offer yourselves up so generously to help others bear the burdens of their lives. The CCAR offers you the same. Ruth and Seth are available for moments of crisis. And for those who would like a few sessions of listening, sharing and examining where you are right now in your life and in the center of your being, I am here for you as well. I am also available for a small number of sessions of spiritual direction and will be facilitating some group work over the course of the year as well.

For more information, go to:

Rabbi Rex D Perlmeter is the CCAR NYU Social Work Intern for Member Care and Wellness.