“Fix Your Tie and Smile. You Are Being Videoed.”
Years ago, the great mashigach of Lakewood, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, once said in a shmuess, “Ah mentch is a breiteh machine. A person is a broad and complex machine.” He explained his words by saying that a person can simultaneously contain within himself seemingly competing or opposite feelings. If I recall correctly, it was a shmuess during the Yomim Noraim and he was saying that a person could contain within himself eimas hadin, fear of the impending judgment of Hashem, and at the same time be botuach badin, having a sense of serenity of spirit and calm that Hashem will certainly judge him favorably. That, of course, is the reason why we eat festive meals and the like on Rosh Hashanah.
I was thinking about these words this past Shabbos, when the vast majority of Klal Yisroel was sitting alone in their homes, prevented from going out to daven b’tzibbur and worried about what the next weeks would bring.
The coronavirus has infused us with numerous and varied feelings, but honestly, most of them are negative. There is a sense of panic, a sense of fear. Who’s next and what’s next? Who will we find out is yet another victim? It keeps creeping closer and closer to us, if it isn’t us already.
What will be next? What draconian lifestyle changes await us? How long will this last? Through Shavuos, the summer, next Rosh Hashanah?
How in the world will we sustain ourselves financially as America shuts down?
On the other hand, many of the more optimistic ones among us are looking for the silver lining. They are talking about how families can bond with each other and become close to one another. They are fervently telling us that Moshiach is mamish here. I even got an email from someone containing the nusach of various brachos that they will say when Moshiach arrives.
So yes, without a doubt, as we are in the grips of this corona madness and mageifah, we must try to be “breiteh machines” and carry within us the contrasting combination – a tremendous sense of fear with the imperative to engage in teshuvah and tikkun hamaasim – because clearly there is a middas hadin in the world. On the other hand, we must also never lose our sense of calm, our sense of simcha and serenity of spirit that no matter what happens, we are in Hashem’s Hands, and only He knows what is best for us; He is our Protector and Shield and He wants us to cling to Him.
How Would Our Grandparents in Mitzrayim Have Acted Had They Known?
Someone recently asked: So what should we be thinking?
I saw a thought in a kuntres on the parsha called “Oz Nidberu.” A question was asked: “I wonder if all of those Yidden in Mitzrayim who came out on the night of Pesach realized at the time that so many millions upon millions of Haggadah Shel Pesachs would be published, depicting exactly how they acted during this period. If our great-great-grandparents would have realized that they were being filmed from close up, and their every statement would be told over again and again for centuries to their descendants, would they have acted differently? If they would have known that the fact that they just didn’t have the patience (kotzer ruach) to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu because of the backbreaking work would be recorded, would they have reacted differently?
“What about avodah zarah? We know that the Bnei Yisroel had a rough time giving up the avodah zarah that they had become accustomed to serving. They knew it was wrong, but it brought them comfort. Chazal tell us that when they were being pursued by the Egyptians and were standing in front of the Yam Suf, the malachim asked Hashem, ‘Why would You save them? They [the Bnei Yisroel] are idol worshipers and the Egyptians are idol worshipers. What is the difference between them?’
“If they would have known that everything was being videoed for generations to come, what do you think? Would they have smiled more nicely for the cameras? Would they have straightened out their ties or fixed their shaitels before the picture for eternity was taken?
“Did they realize that everyone would see their warts and blemishes when the camera zoomed in on them?”
How Will Our Grandchildren Look at the Video of Us?
Without a doubt, we are living in truly historic times. There has never been a tekufah such as this, when the entire world is under the scepter of a mageifah, a highly contagious, dangerous disease that knows no borders. We really have no idea what the future will bring, although most experts tell us that things will get worse before they get better.
We all know that Hashem has a plan, and this is one of those instances when His plan is unfolding before our eyes, although we have no idea what the end game will be.
Certainly, however, I don’t think anyone will disagree that these times are unprecedented and historic. That is why perhaps it is time to think about how one day our grandchildren will look at the video of us that is being made right now.
When they see the full, close-up video of these times and zoom in on us, what are they going to say?
Yes, we have to daven and daven and daven some more. Yes, we have to do teshuvah and listen to the instructions of our rabbonim and the authentic practitioners in the medical community, not taking their guidance and suggested precautions lightly.
At the same time, we must also be “breiteh machines.” We must be calm, happy and prepared for Hashem to show us His yeshuah.
One thing is clear: Hashem is telling us, “I am the Baal Habirah. I control the world. I run the show and none of your kochi v’otzem yodi is worth a thing.”
I couldn’t believe that even Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, when asked by a Channel 12 television anchor what we must do at this time, pointed his finger up to heaven and said, “We need to daven.”
The female anchor, who was an obvious heretic, said, “I believe in the Weitzman Institute.” In other words, the scientific response of the scientists at the Weitzman Institute.
Netanyahu did not back down. “The people in the Weitzman Institute are also turning their eyes toward heaven and davening,” he said.
Clearly, they, too, realize how helpless they are.
Is Moshiach Coming?
I must say that I have always been from those who feel uncomfortable when hearing people react to every major (and minor) world event by saying, “This means Moshiach is right here.”
Of course, one of the 13 ikkrim is to believe with complete faith that Moshiach can come and he can come today, right now. Anyone who does not believe that cannot be considered a believer. That said, all the people who are always running around with “proofs” that he is coming tomorrow make me nervous. Not because what they are saying can’t be true, but rather because I don’t believe that this is what Hashem wants us to do when He is sending us a message.
If Hashem sends us a message, it isn’t so that we should say, “Great, Moshiach is coming, so I am just going to wait on the porch for him in my Shabbos clothes.” No! Hashem is telling us something and demanding something from us. We don’t have nevi’im. We don’t know exactly what it is. But there is one thing I can say with a pretty strong sense of conviction. The message isn’t to try to figure out our nusach for the brachos we should say when Moshiach comes. Don’t worry. When that happens, there will be big signs to read from so that we can say the brachos correctly.
If Hashem is telling us that He is the Baal Habirah and telling us with an urgency that most of us have never seen in our lifetimes, the message should be, “What am I weak in? What do I need to improve?” We all know what our nisyonos are and what is hard for us. For one, it is lashon hara and rechilus, especially if he is forwarding it or posting it. This exponentially increases the aveirah. For another, it is the terrible middah of jealously. For a third, it is areas of kedushas Yisroel or tzinus. For a fourth, it is battling signs of depression or anger. Last, but not least, for many of us it is lack of simcha, lack of just being happy with what we have. We are so fortunate in so many ways, but somehow, we allow ourselves to focus on what we are missing and not what Hashem has given us.
The real hachanah for Moshiach is turning inwards, not outwards. Get off your chat, stop obsessively reading the news, and stop doing the things that just distract us from turning inwards with yishuv hadaas. Be calm. Don’t lose your feelings of bitachon. Connect with Hashem. Decide what you think you can improve and try for a second to have in mind the following thought: When my grandchild or descendent will look at the film of how I reacted and conducted myself during this historic period that might one day be studied by our nation, what will they see?