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The COVID-19 Diaries

03/22/2020 11:58:32 AM


יום ראשון, כ"ו באדר, תש"פ
Sunday, March 22, 2020

Last Sunday, March 15 2020, was the last time I davened with a minyan. I haven’t said kedusha, haven’t heard kaddish for a week.

Yeshiva for the kids has become phone or zoom conferences. I haven’t verified it, but the boys in Breuers think that Rav Mantel shlit”a does not want learning Torah to be done on Zoom. The secular classes are on zoom. Interestingly enough I found a reference to this concern this past Shabbos in Rav Elya’s Lev Eliyahu. He asks why Betzalel was linked to his grandfather Chur (Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur). Everyone assumes that it has to do with Chur’s murder as he attempted to prevent the Eigel. Rav Elya writes that the mesiras nefesh of Chur allowed the Mishkan of Betzalel to never be destroyed. Things infused with kedushah from the earliest stages, facilitate kedushah in the object. To the extent that the kedushah is lacking in production, the object produced  will lack kedushah and potentially worse. In fact, a sefer Torah written by a min is to be destroyed. Something to consider. Although, I personally feel we are way to far from ruchnius for this to impact us; I could be totally wrong.

It is a big challenge to  keep up a proper schedule in this reality. Minyan is what I used to wake up for. Now my davening can’t even parallel the same time as the tzibur, because there is no tzibur. So BH teaching and the kids schedule force me into routine. I really think I would fall into a bad rut were it not for that.

Nechemiah, as an example, does not want to wake up in the morning. I think it’s not healthy to sleep in too much, but I have no leverage. There is no minyan, sof zman shema is not until 10 and his conference call is not until 11:20, so he is falling into a terrible sleep-wake pattern. Does it really matter?

I have constant thoughts about the current matzav, vacillating between the negative and positive involved, which I think is the balanced, correct approach. Last night I listened to an audio recording from Rabbi Reuven Epstein, a cousin of Adam Childs, a talmid of mine, who has COVID-19. It has left him with a fever and aches so severe that, while he is not in a hospital, he describes how he feels nearly paralyzed from weakness. He described rolling up into a fetal position just to be able to daven, and the feeling that Hashem really doesn’t want his prayers. All the Shuls are now closed, the Yeshivas are closed. This week all that will be open will be essential stores, which seems to include liquor stores, so we shouldn’t have a problem getting wine for Pesach (which Elisha is nervous about - getting his Kal). I have heard several schmoozen like Rabbi Epstein’s who’s perspective is that HKBH is trying to force us to realize what HE deems important and get us out of the trap of what WE think is important. It’s amazing. There is no more sports, no more shows, movie theaters are closed, restaurants are closed, cruises are closed, obviously all the hangouts are closed, people are supposed to maintain social distancing, remaining 6 feet from each other. I was joking about shopping and turning down an aisle at Wesley to get something but since someone is in that aisle, quickly going down another. What’s left? Being home with family working on relationships and trying to have a personal relationship with Hashem.

So while that does seem positive, there is a real sense of punishment, certainly from Rabbi Epstein who is physically suffering from it, and to a lesser extent, from all of us, who have been exiled from Shuls and Yeshivos. Will it be enough to focus on those relationships and personal tefillah, or does Hashem want more from us?

One thing for sure, when Chazal say that disaster happens only for Yisroel, we saw this coming and totally didn’t see this coming. When it all began in Wuhan, we could have said that it’s for us and done serious teshuva, but we never did that before and didn’t think to this time. And it hit us as it spread. In fact, the first local community was the Jewish one. Westchester. It spread to Yidden from there. In any case, now the whole United States is dealing with it.

On the positive side, we know that this is the avodah now and it should be embraced. We should not have thoughts of “nebuch this is our situation” or with total yeiush. Rav Kahn keeps stressing that vegilu beraadah means we can’t get too carried away with simchah, but the flip side is also true, we cannot get carried away with fear. There has to be gila in the raada too.

However, I am not on the bandwagon of those currently celebrating the arrival of moshiach or whatever they think. There were people driving around in cars honking, playing Jewish music and blowing shofar or the like on erev Shabbos, and while I am all for people releasing tension and the amusement value for the onlooker, there is absolutely nothing to celebrate right now. Now we need to be seriously trying to be better. We can celebrate when we see it end, not while we are in it. We are not Nachum Ish Kam Zu and we are not even Rebbi Akiva - who by the way only laughed regarding building the Mikdash (because there was a nevuah!), not on a regular basis. When his possessions were lost he said, “Whatever Hashem does is for the best”, he didn’t laugh or smile or make a kiddush!

In a similar vein, this morning a received a forwarded message, “I have a proposal for when all this madness is over, I’m sure we will all have many ideas about how to give thanks Hashem for everything. But one thing we are missing. Our Sifrei Torah and our shuls sit alone during this entire time. I propose each Shul hold a grand Hachnasas Sefer Torah celebration dancing with our Sifrei Torah around the block to show our appreciation and then hold a big kiddush to rededicate the Shul. TY Joel Wohl Please spread”

I totally understand what this person is saying, and I relate. I really do. But a while back I learned a Tanna Devei Eliyahu (I learn it every motzei Shabbos at my melaveh malkah) about when the Aron was captured by the Plishtim  and returned, and I learned something amazing from it because I didn’t understand it.
The gist is that when the Aron came back, the first Jews to see it were those of Beit Shemesh, and they came out to great it with tremendous joy and celebration. Well, Hashem smote them, and Eliyahu HaNavi describes theirs was a totally wrong response. They should have responded with fear and trepidation and teshuva (see Tanna Devei Eliyahu Ish Shalom Parsha 12).
Now the first time I read this I didn’t understand. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that if you punish your son and he gets to come out of his room and does so with celebration and simchah, you feel like he is happy to be out, but not full of remorse. It’s the seriousness and focus with which one rededicates himself that reflects his change. So aside from the inappropriateness of removing sifrei Torah from the Aron without reading from them (which we would NEVER do, other than to roll them), the whole perspective is warped. I am not blaming him, chas veshalom, like I said, I understand and can relate, but I have learned enough to know that this is the wrong approach.
At the end of the day, the focus right not must be on change and that requires a seriousness and focus, but balanced with a simchah of purpose and confidence that we can change and that our change will change the world and bring it to a better place. When we get there, we will return with a sense of humility to be welcomed back, not with a party.
Mu biggest concern is that we are adjusting, but not consciously changing. I just don’t know if that is enough.

  15 Nisan 5784