Teaching is never easy. It requires time, patience, technique, and a lot of caring. Then there’s also preparation, marking, parental feedback, and dealing with issues that arise. Teaching with a mask is that much harder. Aside from the discomfort of wearing a mask and the challenge of projecting your voice, it’s immeasurably harder to teach when students cannot see the teacher’s mouth and facial expressions. The same is true regarding the teacher’s inability to see his or her students’ facial expressions. It also makes it much harder to hear what they are saying. We don’t realize how much we read lips in daily conversations.

(There’s also the added challenge of having to smell your own breath.)

The truth is that we spend most of our days wearing masks. Every time we step outside of the privacy of our own home, we don masks that shield others from seeing the real us.

Social media and online presence is even more masked. People don’t portray their real lives on social media; they only portray what they would like everyone to see. As a result, social media breeds jealousy, anxiety, and depression. We look at other people’s posts and wonder why their lives seem so blissful and wonderful while we feel like we can barely keep our heads above water. Little do we realize that the other person may very well be thinking the same thing about us and our lives based on our social media posts.

Rarely do we have the courage to remove our masks and present ourselves to the world as we really are. We are too afraid to be real and vulnerable. We wonder: What if people don’t like the real me? So, we maintain fake veneers, which only serve to make us feel worse about ourselves and our deficiencies.

Part of the refreshing beauty of the weeks of Elul and the days leading up to Yom Kippur is that during this time we make a supreme effort to peel off our masks, in order to analyze the real essence of who we are.

Halachah states that one must immerse in a mikvah before Yom Kippur.

In a sense, the mikvah symbolizes the spiritual drama of death and rebirth. When one submerges himself in its natural water, he enters an environment in which he cannot breathe and live for more than a few moments. It symbolizes the death of all that has gone on before. As he emerges from the gagging waters into the clear air, he begins life anew.

The mikvah also symbolizes a spiritual womb. A human fetus is surrounded by water. At the time of its birth, the water “breaks,” and the child emerges into a new world.

When one emerges from the mikvah, he should view himself as if beginning life anew. The question is: What will he do now? Will he return to the prior life he was living? Will he again don the masks he has been wearing? Or, will he seek to maintain his newfound purity by being true and genuine to himself?

The pandemic has also addressed the question of what is considered essential. Businesses that were deemed essential were allowed to reopen while those not essential had to remain shut. This led to justifiable aggravation and outrage, as people watched their businesses be destroyed, feeling that their business was no less “essential” than others that had been allowed to open.

The pandemic forced us to rethink what is essential in our lives. There were many things we didn’t think we could live without and we found out otherwise. (Is it really possible to make Pesach without a cleaning lady?)

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are all essential! If we are here, it’s because G-d wants us to be here to fulfill a specific mission and purpose. It’s been said that G-d has no grandchildren. We may disappoint Him but, no matter what, we are always His children (Kiddushin 36a).

We hope that 5781 will be a year of blessing and goodness. We hope it will be a year of health and well-being, of peace and prosperity, a year when suffering and pain, plague, and struggle end.

For us personally, we hope it will be a year when we are able to confidently remove our masks – literally and figuratively – a year when we learn to love ourselves for who we are, a year of rebirth, and one in which we recognize how essential we are in G-d’s world.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.