Dear Rabbi Fried,
Please help us! We need some spiritual direction besides the constant updates of regulations and gory details of the spread of the virus. Obviously, we need to heed the government regulations, but what should we be focusing on in the spiritual world?
Marvin and Joyce
Dear Marvin and Joyce,
You are very correct in seeking a spiritual path through this confusion, when nearly everything around us is crashing down and all the old norms are off the table. Throughout our history the Jewish people have always searched for a spiritual direction in times of difficulty. At times the direction is clear, more often it is very elusive to pinpoint the spiritual focus which we seek.
In days of old we had direct revelation through Prophets as to the Divine message being delivered to us in trying times. The Books of Prophets, earlier and later, are filled with Divine warnings of the impending destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile, all which were, sadly, fulfilled when the Jews didn’t heed the message. During those times we had great clarity of what is expected from us during such times.
Alas, we no longer have the clarity of direction provided by prophecy. (Since the end of prophecy, we have become a non-prophet organization!)
What we do have is what is known as the “prophecy of the sages,” (see Ramban to Talmud Bava Basra 12a). This is a Torah sage’s far-reaching understanding of world events due to his profound knowledge and understanding of Torah, “God’s Mind” as it is revealed to this world. These giants of Torah are able, like the prophets of old, to provide direction in the maze of pathways and the thick fog of our situations.
Last we mentioned the advice of the leading sage of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky of B’nei Brak, Israel, to work on refraining from Lashon Hara, evil gossip against fellow Jews, and rather to do acts of love toward others. Secondly, he suggested to work on the trait of humility which, says the Talmud, wards off sickness. Let us focus on a deeper aspect of humility which I feel is a crucial lesson for these times.
Our society has become increasingly secular, casting off so many of the traditional values that many of us grew up with. Most of all, the modern society has grown further and further away from God and the recognition of His dominion over the world. With that comes the feeling that it is we, rather, who are in charge! God is willing to put up with our ignoring Him and replacing Him with us…to an extent.
There comes a time when we need to be put back in our place, to see it is not us who are in charge. All of our institutions, our financial system, our entertainment and transportation grind to a halt, not by a nuclear Armageddon, rather by a microbe. By something nearly invisible… that can’t even be seen by the naked eye.
This is the true lesson of humility, to hear the message that not we, but He is in charge. There is a God, there’s a purpose, there are morals and right and wrong. This is the theme of Rosh Hashanah — we ask God to reveal His Kingdom to all the world and that the haughty among the nations should all learn humility. They should join together to accept, with Israel, the Kingdom of God.
In a way, we are having a type of Rosh Hashanah; everything is new and the world is, in many ways, starting over.
Let us accept this message and find ways to improve ourselves, as servants of the Al-mighty, by studying His Torah and thereby serving as a light unto the nations. May we view this great opportunity to learn and practice humility with joy, which will be a tremendous merit to be delivered from the painful time we now live in.
Dear Rabbi Fried,