Slowly, but surely, life is returning back to normal, and for most of us, it is not happening quickly enough. Many have quarantined throughout this entire harrowing ordeal, but the fear of leaving our homes has pretty much dissipated and even many of the masks that people were careful to wear have been removed. Social distancing is pretty much history. People, especially those with children in the house, are anxious to burst out of their confinement.
We are creatures of habit. We crave normalcy and our normal routine. Going to minyan and regular sedorim, shopping, tending to our daily chores, our children in yeshiva, school, or playgroups, and socializing with our neighbors and friends. We get a bit frazzled even if the stores are missing just one or two items that are usually on our shopping list. And so, the return to the usual is most welcome by all. How good it would be for this episode in our lives to become just a faded memory. Or would it really be so good?
As we break out of our shackles, embracing our newly-found freedom, we must be very careful not to be in such a rush that we leave the pandemic ordeal behind in a cloud of dust. Hopefully, with siyata diShmaya, contrary to the gloomy predictions of the so-called experts, we should never, ever, have to experience something like this again. And while such horrors were not uncommon throughout history, we, in modern times, have never seen anything like it. May Hashem watch over us and prevent it from ever happening again.
As Yidden who are maaminim bnei maaminim, we believe that everything sent to us from Shomayim has a purpose and a lesson. Undoubtedly, this terrible mageifah was sent to us as a message. We don’t have nevuah to pinpoint to us clearly what we must rectify, but such a tragedy must awaken in us a feeling of “nachpesa derocheinu venachkora – let us search and examine our ways and return to Hashem” (Eicha 3:40). Various possibilities have been suggested by roshei yeshiva and rabbonim, and it is something that we must take seriously.
When we experience middas hadin, it is meant to humble us and instill in us fear of Hashem. We are living in a very carefree society, preoccupied with all of the pleasures of Olam Hazeh. Living in golus, this can have a strong affect on us and cause us to forget that we are different and that we have a different purpose in life. That this world is only a corridor that leads to the banquet hall of Olam Haba. What the secular world gets absorbed in for the moment is inconsequential. Why, just a couple of weeks before the mageifah was cast upon us, the news was filled with trivialities, such as the ban on using plastic shopping bags or the latest media-contrived scandal in the White House. Those are, indeed, faded memories.
An adam gadol who was a great baal yissurim, suffering from all sorts of difficulties, once commented, “Were I given the choice, I would never, ever, have agreed to go through the suffering that I encountered, but now that I have endured all the pain, I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world.”
Fear of Hashem is the greatest of assets.
“The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem, it is good understanding for those who practice it” (Tehillim 111:10). When Hashem sends us a hardship that shakes us to the core, it is our Father sending us an urgent signal. Of course we would like to avoid the misery at all costs, but once we have experienced it, we must take it very seriously to make an everlasting impression upon us and not allow it to fade from our conscience.
Anyone who is a baal regesh will never be able to forget those days shortly after Purim when we heard horror stories of sudden death, people being hospitalized in droves, friends, neighbors and relatives leaving this world so unexpectedly without people having a chance to say a proper goodbye and according them their deserved honor. To read so many obituaries at once of gedolim, talmidei chachomim, askanim and plain ehrliche Yidden was heartbreaking and mind-numbing. It made us feel so small, so fragile, so vulnerable, and it reinforced how dependent we are on Hashem’s chassodim every moment of every day.
“Rav Levi bar Chama said in the name of Rav Shimon ben Lakish: A man should always arouse his yeitzer tov to wage war against his yeitzer hara. If he is successful, good, but if not, he should engross himself in Torah. If that doesn’t work, he should lain Krias Shema, and if he is still not successful, he should remember the day of death” (Brachos 5a).
Remembering the day of death is depressing and stifling, and is only to be used as a last resort in combating the yeitzer hara, but it is an effective method of steering us on the right path. In normal times, we are so busy, so in a rush, so preoccupied with life, and yes, so unwilling to think morbid thoughts. But here, Hashem brought this actuality to the fore to open our eyes and focus on the real tachlis of this world. It’s a matter that no one wants to face, but it has been shown to us in such a stark reality. We mustn’t let the impression totally fade away without impacting us.
The sense of weakness and vulnerability makes us turn to Hashem, for Ein Od Milvado, He is really the One who can help and sustain us. During this time of desperation, our tefillos were more focused and intense. And although we weren’t able to the daven in shul, there was a certain feeling of closeness to Hashem that we don’t usually experience. Davening alone when you are only one voice and not being rushed by the pace of the tzibbur can really make you feel that it’s just you and Hashem.
But Yiddishkeit is not merely about feelings. It is about compliance with halacha. We are required to daven with a tzibbur in shul. Now that we are once again able to do so, we mustn’t forget that feeling of attachment to Hashem. That special connection is a pleasurable experience and, with extra effort in kavanah, we can continue and it doesn’t have to fade.
During a time of tzarah, not only do we become closer to Hashem, but we are also drawn closer to one another. Someone else’s pain becomes our own pain and someone else’s need becomes our own need. In fact, we realize that another Yid is not someone else. We are all one family, different segments of one big unit. This is seen overtly through the heroic efforts of all the chesed organizations that worked endlessly with all of their kochos to help their fellow Yidden.
In addition, we saw the caring of one individual for another. The amount of tzedakah given during this period to help fellow Yidden in need was incredible. How heartening it was to hear Yidden getting together on the phone to daven for someone who needed rachamei Shomayim. To hear people constantly asking how So-and-so is doing… Are they getting better? To hear their deep concern when someone was struggling and their genuine simcha upon hearing news of their recovery. This feeling for our fellow Yidden is something that we mustn’t forget, something that should remain with us even as we get busier with our own schedules when life returns to normal.
As survivors of the pandemic, whether we recovered from the illness or never contracted it at all, we must be ever grateful to Hashem for His chassodim. We must not take life for granted and must constantly thank Him for every day that passes without incident and we maintain our health. We tend to take this for granted, never giving it any thought. One of the practical hanhagos that we can take from this episode is to concentrate more during the brocha of Modim in Shemoneh Esrei and think about the chassodim that Hashem bestows upon us daily.
We find in a few places in Chazal that people merited Olam Haba in one moment of teshuvah. About this, Rabi Yehuda Hanosi cried and exclaimed, “One can acquire his world in one instance!” (Avodah Zarah 10a). The meforshim ask: Why did Rebbi cry over this?
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explained that there are numerous times in our lives when we are awakened to do teshuvah or to elevate our levels of serving Hashem. These are moments when we can literally acquire entire worlds. But instead of utilizing these moments, we let them pass and fritter away opportunities that have been so beneficial to us. This is why Rebbi cried. If one can acquire his entire Olam Haba in one second, how many such opportunities do we squander and allow to pass by? This is a thought that we must be cognizant of as we move on with our lives.
When a nazir concludes the period of his nezirus, he is required to bring a korban chatos, but what sin did he commit that necessitates this? To the contrary, he fulfilled a great mitzvah. The Ramban explains that the sin of the nazir happens at the end of his nezirus, for he is now elevated through his kedusha and avodas Hashem. If so, it would benefit him to remain in this exalted state forever and to further accept upon himself nezirus. Instead, he is stopping the nezirus, returning to the mundane world and allowing himself once again to be defiled by the desires of the world (Ramban, Bamidbar 6:14).
The last three months, starting from right after Purim and through Shavuos, were days when we were isolated from the world. They were days of fear, days of introspection, and days of being preoccupied with serious matters. They were holy days. It would be a shame to totally forget about that and allow their impact to just float away. Let us daven that Hashem is indeed removing this malady completely, never to return again. Let us move away from this. But let us move away from this period slowly enough that its lessons follow us forever.