Time has stopped. A giant hold button has been pressed and everything has paused. Everything that was so important a couple of weeks ago has receded from our collective memories as we concentrate on getting through the day safely.
Pesach, the chag hageulah, is around the corner, yet it feels so far away. Never in our lives did we feel so lost and lonely, pining for redemption. We sit by ourselves, learn by ourselves, and daven by ourselves, lost in thought all alone.
To us, the generations born after World War II, everything is new. Thankfully, we have never experienced anything close to what is going on now. We have never been tested as we are now; we have never felt the way we do now. Everything is surreal. We go to bed happy that we have not been stricken by the virus and daven that we be granted life, and we continue to be spared from the unseen enemy.
We now feel how people felt when they didn’t know which way to run and where to hide. Many locked themselves in their homes and hoped for the best. We are all under lockdown, separated from family and friends, waiting for the plague to end so that we can resume normal human interaction.
Our daily routines have been interrupted. No longer do we get up and go daven. We daven at home. We don’t leave the house unless it is very important. We do our best not to catch the disease.
During Israel’s war of independence, Rav Refoel Kook approached the Chazon Ish. “People are asking me,” he said, “about what is going on now and how they are to understand the dire straits in which they find themselves. What shall I tell them?”
The Chazon Ish responded, “Everyone can see that from Shomayim we are being led somewhere, but we cannot fathom where the rough time we are going through will lead us. We cannot project the ways of the Almighty.”
With our lives turned upside down, we are sure that Hashem is directing what is happening. It is beyond our human capability to understand what caused this to happen and where it is leading us. What we do know is that in an eis tzarah, we are meant to call out to Hashem for salvation and engage in teshuvah.
While panic overtakes the world, we must remember that those who have emunah and know that Hakadosh Boruch Hu causes everything to transpire maintain a sense of calm and serenity. Nothing is haphazard. Nothing happens without Hashem directing it to happen. We don’t fear the next day, for we know that Hashem intends this all for the good.
When the deluge of negativity and frightening news threatens to overwhelm, we have faith, not fear.
We wonder what the coronavirus plague is all about and why it is happening. We don’t know. We can’t know. There are many things that take place in the world that we must accept without understanding.
We get lost in the daily news and fail to see the forest for the trees. It is comforting to note that miracles happen every day. Sometimes we recognize them, but sometimes we don’t. Let’s be on the lookout for them and appreciate the good that we have. It helps us deal with the tough stuff to understand that we are not alone.
Seventy-five years ago, when murder and destruction spread across Europe, a small group of yeshivos were carried on eagle’s wings to faraway Shanghai, where they spent the awful years in relative peace. In hot Shanghai, they flourished in learning and middos, their suffering bringing forth new kochos, gifting our people with a generation of gedolim and roshei yeshiva.
When the war ended, the full brunt of their situation finally hit them. Free to travel, they realized that few among them had parents or families waiting to reunite with them. There was nowhere to go back to. Everyone had been killed. Everything had been destroyed.
As a steady stream of talmidim headed to Eretz Yisroel and America, several remained behind, waiting for visas. For the first time, they were overtaken by despair. A group of Polish talmidim, students in the exiled Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, received a letter from the Imrei Emes of Ger.
Understanding the challenge of finding strength when they felt like mourning, he sent them a missive filled with chizuk and encouragement.
“The main thing,” he wrote, “is to know that everything comes from Hashem and no bad emanates from Him. Everything is for the good… As the seforim teach, ‘Vayehi erev vayehi voker yom echod,’ both the darkness and kindness are from one source and for one goal: to illuminate the world for us later on.
“We believe that just as the Tochachah, the prophecies foretelling difficult times, were fulfilled, so will the hopeful and comforting prophecies come to be. The hester ponim is a test, an illusion, and ultimately it will be very good.”
The Gerrer Rebbe quoted the Rambam’s Igeres Teiman, where he encouraged the beleaguered Jews of Yemen during a difficult time.
“Rabbeinu Maimon writes that a cord of Torah and mitzvos connects heaven and earth. To the degree that a person grasps it will he himself be strengthened…”
The rebbe signed the letter, “Ohavchem, the one who loves you, who shares in your pain, who looks forward to salvation and consolation.”
The eternal message, that g’nus leads to shevach, winter leads to spring, and darkness leads to light, is as old as creation. Vayehi erev vayehi voker yom echod.
The Sefas Emes explains that Chodesh Nissan is the “first” of the months, because it was in this month that Hashem unveiled the hanhogah that is revealed and visible in this world during Yetzias Mitzrayim.
Until then, it was a hanhogah of hester, but in the month of Nissan, Hashem burst forth openly into the lower worlds, revealing His presence and strength in Mitzrayim, b’yad chazakah uvizroa netuya.
Each year during Nissan, that energy once again fills the world, providing a chance to reveal Hashem in the lower spheres, filling this world with His presence. Pesach, the Yom Tov of emunah, gives us the opportunity, the chance to fill our hearts – and those of our children – with this awareness of freedom and protection.
As the month of Nissan begins, it reminds us that Hakadosh Boruch Hu is there, pulling the strings, setting up the world for something great that will lead to the ultimate redemption as occurred in Nissan in Mitzrayim.
The world isn’t going to end, and we won’t run out of food. Yom Tov will not be what we are used to, but we will still be able to observe all the mitzvos hachag, celebrating our redemption from Mitzrayim. We may have to celebrate all alone, by ourselves, and we will miss being is shul singing Hallel together with the congregation, but we will be able to daven, thanking Hashem for the chesed in a time of din. We will be able to ask for redemption from the tzorah that hangs over us and pray that it disappears as fast as it came.
We worry about whether our next pay check will come and how we will afford the mortgage, the rent, and the other expenses we have.
A man lost his job and went to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, the Yeshuos Moshe, with sadness written all over his face.
“Rebbe, I was laid off from my job,” he said. “I have no source of income. Oy, what will be with me and my family? How will I be able to feed and support them?”
The rebbe responded, “You were laid off from your job, but Hashem was not laid off from His. He promises that He is ‘meichin mazon lechol briosav asher bara.’ He provides food for all. You are included in that promise. Do not fear and do not become despondent. Believe that Hashem will provide for you and you will be okay.”
Though times are rough, and nobody is enjoying the historic downturn we are experiencing, with faith that Hashem will not abandon us and good times will definitely return, we can maintain a calm and upbeat composure.
Rav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub noted that difficult times are always followed by good times. After the darkness that descended upon the world when the Asarah Harugei Malchus were killed, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai lit up the world with the revelation of Toras Hasod. Following the awful period of Tach VeTat, when many thousands of Jews were killed and pillaged, we were blessed with the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov and the Ramchal. After the darkness and sadness that was brought by the Holocaust, he said, came the great light of the unprecedented burgeoning Torah communities.
The Sefer Hachassidim explains this phenomenon. He says that Hashem wants to do good with man, but the Soton interferes and says that man doesn’t deserve it. “Why,” the Soton questions, “are you being so kind to him?” Therefore, Hashem brings periods of great pain and nisyonos in order to silence the evil Soton.
For us to merit periods of light and goodness, we must first endure darkness and pain. Let us withstand the nisayon, maintain our faith, and strengthen ourselves in Torah and good deeds, so that we will quickly exit this testing period and experience the great light and growth that will certainly follow.
Look out the window of your isolation room and see how winter is turning to spring. Trees and plants are blooming. The bare branches will soon be covered in green, and what appeared to be dead will spring to colorful life.
We have become used to the rushed pace of life the modern world has thrust upon us. We are under constant pressures of all types. We adapted to living under the gun, running, rushing, pedaling in place to keep our heads above water. That has all changed. What should be an aura of calmness has descended over us. We no longer have social obligations. Some don’t have work. We don’t have our usual learning arrangements. We don’t have places that we must go to…or else. We sit home with our families.
We can use this period to discover – and reconnect to – our real selves. It is a time to see what is really important and what we can live without. As we are forced to spend time together, we can nurture loving relationships with our children and family. We can give time to our children without having to run off to fulfill one of our many obligations. Nobody is pressuring us. We have nowhere to go and very little to do besides for spending time with those around us.
A giant reset button has been pressed, bringing us back to when life was much simpler. Who knows? We might decide that we like it this way, and even when the good times return, we must just choose to live simpler, healthier lives, free of the tension and stress of the twenty-first century.