People are confounded. They don’t know what they should be thinking now. As coronavirus spreads, the world panics hysterically. Thankfully, so far, only a minimal number of people have been afflicted. Every person’s health is important, and every life is precious, but from the international anxiety, you would think that many millions have contracted the disease and died.
The fear of the unknown has taken over the collective psyche of mankind. Until now, we have all lived with the misconception that our lives and society are so advanced that nothing could invade the comfort bubble in which we live. We thought that we would never be affected by throwbacks to the Middle Ages. We are educated and advanced enough that we can deal with all issues, we thought. Plagues cannot affect a generation armed with computers, electricity, vaccines and antibiotics. For whatever ails us, there is a pill. We are easily able to care for our needs.
Hashem has created a new invisible pathogen to teach us differently.
In the Kovno ghetto, Rav Mordechai Pogramansky met a group of Slabodka yeshiva bochurim. He began speaking with them and asked what they thought Hashem wanted from them. Having gone from the lofty sublimity of the prime Lithuanian yeshiva to being forced by Nazi madmen into cramped quarters, they were at a loss for an answer.
Rav Pogramansky said to them, “Look up. There stands a German with a gun. Why doesn’t he shoot us? He would love nothing more than to see a Jew lying on the floor, dying in a pool of blood, with other Jews shaking in fear nearby. He has the gun, he has the bullets, and he would love to use them. Why doesn’t he?
“The answer is that even in a time when the lights have gone out and everything is dark, even when we are in a time of the greatest hester ponim that could be, there is no such a thing as a Jew without Hashem watching over him. Every bullet has an address, and because we are not destined to die now, a Nazi can stand here with a loaded machine gun and not shoot us.
“At a time like this, Hashem wants us to reinforce our faith that even in the dark periods for Klal Yisroel, what was not preordained for us by Hashem will not happen.”
As believing Jews, we do not fear and do not succumb to fear. As the world convulses from an epidemic of fear, we remain calm and resolute. We follow the precautions set by medical experts and we obey the laws put in place by governments seeking to stem the spread of coronavirus, but we do not panic and do not become anxious and crazy. We maintain our balance as we daven that Hashem protect us.
We don’t permit chaos to distract us and overwhelm our thinking. We are guided by our faith, not by our emotions.
The Rosh writes in Orchos Chaim (#100), “Al tivahel maasecha.” Even in times of turmoil and panic, conduct yourself with calmness and equanimity. A believing person does not lose himself and become caught up with anxiety and despair, no matter what is going on around him.
If you listen to what unintelligent and uninformed people say, then you will quickly devolve into dread. If you pay attention to every unfounded rumor, then you will be overcome with angst about your future. If you become attached to your iPhone and check it every minute for updates and silliness, then you can lose your mind. In times like this, especially, the best thing you can do is to put away your phone and access to social media and replace it with a Sefer Tehillim.
In times when the middas hadin is rampant in the world, in a time when disease is spreading like a plague, don’t look at others and don’t do what the world is doing. Do what a Yid does. Look inside to your heart and soul and strengthen your observance of Torah and mitzvos. Daven, and when you do, think about what you are saying. Don’t rush through the tefillos, mumbling words incoherently. Rather, concentrate on the meaning of what you are saying as you ask Hashem to watch over you, heal you and bless you.
Most of all, we need to maintain our faith and belief that everything that transpires in the world is coordinated by Hashem. We think we understand some things, and oftentimes we are clueless as to why they happen, but we know that they do not occur by themselves.
The Chofetz Chaim would explain this with a moshol. Sometimes a person is sick, and to become well, he has to take a bitter pill that is very difficult to swallow. To enable the swallowing of the medicine, it is surrounded by a capsule. The easily consumed capsule is ingested and hopefully the medicine cures the person.
This, said the Chofetz Chaim, is the explanation of the posuk which states, “Vehaboteiach baHashem chesed yesovevenu.” The believer is surrounded by kindness. Bitachon is the capsule that envelops the bitter times of life. The Chofetz Chaim explained that a person who lives with bitachon doesn’t feel or taste the bitterness or pain of a rough time.
A husband once went to Rav Moshe Feinstein asking for a brocha for his wife who was before childbirth. “She is very afraid,” the man said. “She is experiencing pain and complications.”
Rav Moshe blessed him that everything should go well and that she should give birth to a healthy child.
The man wasn’t satisfied. He said that he thought that after telling Rav Moshe that his wife was suffering, he would send her a message of support and chizuk.
Rav Moshe said to the man, “Of what use is worrying? Strengthening herself in emunah and bitachon will accomplish a lot more than my messages of feeling her pain.”
Dovid Hamelech says (Tehillim 31:25), “Chizku veyameitz levavchem kol hameyachalim laHashem,” those who believe in Hashem should have no fear, for they know that He is the One who brought the disease and He is the One who will remove it.
People forget that Hakadosh Boruch Hu runs the world. We became so used to expecting that a press of a button gets us what we need. We take for granted that we leave our homes, get into a car and drive to the airport, where we show our passport and are able to get onto an airplane and fly to anywhere in the world. If chas veshalom we become ill, we take a pill without much thought and, after a few days, we are better.
We go to work every day without appreciating that we can. We go to shul three times a day without giving any thought to the gift we have to be able to freely congregate and daven. We put our children on the bus each morning and off they go to school. We go about our day without thinking of the fact that we are blessed with yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs staffed by excellent rabbeim, moros and teachers.
Hashem says, “I will show you who is Boss and let loose a virus nobody ever heard of or has a clue how to deal with.”
The tiny unseen organism has spread like crazy throughout the world, causing mayhem and panic in country after country. People are locked in their homes, unable to go to work, school, or play. Shuls are closed, schools are closed and businesses are closed. Employees are laid off and airlines are grounded. People are separated from each other, sitting at home and fretting.
Others see it as the way of the world. Someone in China ate a bat that was sick and suddenly the whole world went mad. But we, bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok, v’Yaakov, know that the root of the disease is not a random animal and its Chinese consumer. We know that at the root of the disease is Hakadosh Boruch Hu reminding us, His beloved children, that He is our Father.
The Chazon Ish once explained this to Rav Shmuel Wosner. A person took ill and after davening he was healed. The person thought that his tefillos were what removed the sickness from him, but it was not so. The proper way to look at it, said the Chazon Ish, is that this person “forgot” about Hashem, so He brought a sickness upon the man so that he would daven and bring Him back into his life. When the person davens and remembers that he needs Hashem, he no longer needs the infection, so he is healed.
Living with bitachon in a fearful time does not mean to close our minds to what is transpiring. It means knowing and appreciating the danger, but knowing that it is not the virus that is in charge, but Hashem.
During Israel’s independence war of 1948, the Brisker Rov decided that it was too dangerous to remain in Yerushalayim. He piled his family into a car and they set out to leave for a safer area. As they left the holy city, they were ambushed by an Arab group. As the driver negotiated with the armed band, the rov explained to his children the danger they were in, enumerating what could happen to them. They asked their father why he felt the need to make them more agitated than they already were about their situation.
The rov responded that bitachon doesn’t mean to negate the dangerous situation and say that everything will work out beseder. It means appreciating the severity of their condition and having faith that Hashem will save them from the danger.
We need not negate the danger of the virus, but rather respect the threat it poses to our health and deal with it calmly and with complete faith that we shall be protected.
This is the foundation of Shaar Habitachon in the classic sefer Chovos Halevavos.
It is brought in seforim from the Arizal that fear is what drives “dever,” a plague. Those who are able to overcome the fear by strengthening their faith in Hashem and engaging in tefillah and limud haTorah are spared.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Sicha) states that emunah and bitachon have the power to overcome nature. He wrote a letter last week stating that improving in the areas of lashon hora and the way we deal with each other are especially meritorious in a time like this. A letter from Rav Akiva Eiger written during a deadly cholera epidemic in 1831 calls upon people to heed government mandates about not having more than 15 people together in shul and advises to recite “parshas haketores” at Shacharis and mincha.
Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rov, was the consummate fundraiser of his time. He dreamed of rebuilding the yeshiva that the Nazis destroyed in his hometown of Ponovezh in Lithuania. He traveled the world raising funds to build and then maintain the yeshiva.
It was only natural that when Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach needed a speaker to motivate people to donate to stave off the closure of his yeshiva, Shaar Hashomayim in Yerushalayim, due to financial ruin that he turned to Rav Kahaneman.
The rov made a special trip to be at the yeshiva’s emergency dinner and delivered a rousing speech about emunah, bitachon and love of Torah. The directors of the yeshiva were very upset. “For this we brought you all the way here to speak?” they told him. “We are desperate for money. We were expecting a moving appeal from the master fundraiser.”
The Rov answered them, “I am not a good fundraiser. I do not know how to raise money. What I have is emunah that Hashem will help me maintain the yeshivos I established. The love of Torah that burns in my soul motivates me to travel from one end of the world to the other. These are my fundraising tools, so I shared them with your crowd.”
In all that we do and all that we accomplish, in good times and in times like today, the secret to survival and success is emunah and bitachon.
We need to keep our wits about us, acting intelligently and prudently. We need to follow the guidance of rabbonim and health authorities as they seek to interrupt transmission of this germ. We should not be cavalier about the dangers the virus represents. We should be mindful of the stress the situation creates on people whose children are home and those whose income is down.
We should remember that we are an am chochom venavon, an intelligent nation who values life. Our G-d is an “Av rachum vechanun,” kind and merciful, and we seek to follow His ways.
We are now experiencing a tremendous nisayon. At this time, when shuls are shut and we cannot daven with a minyan, when yeshivos are shuttered and the study of Torah is impacted, we need to do our best to fill the void that has been created. We each have to improve our davening and limud haTorah to compensate for the tremendous international vacuum.
We need to be better, do better, and create a kiddush Hashem in all we do during this trying period.
We pray that just as He brought this disease, He will remove it from our midst quickly and life will return to normal, leaving us chastened and reconnected to Him.