With the doors of our schools shuttered, the gates of our shuls locked, and the shrill communal conversation about Coronavirus reaching a fever pitch, everybody is talking about what Hashem wants from us. I don’t claim to know Hashem’s thoughts or intentions. Indeed, I have nary a clue of what it is that Hashem truly wants from us. But I do have an inkling about what He might be giving us, and that is perhaps even more important.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “All obstacles are merely for the sake of increasing desire.” (Likutei Moharan 66) Sometimes, losing something is the only way to truly appreciate what we had. To employ an English idiom, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Preventing us from gathering with other Jews for kiddushim and simchos, Hashem is granting us the privilege of yearning for, and thus appreciating, the great gift of togetherness, friendship and sense of support offered by our wonderful communities. Preventing us from coming to shul to daven with a minyan, Hashem is granting us the privilege of yearning for, and thus treasuring, the special sound of many whispered prayers lovingly linking arms to rise through the hallowed and serene air of the Beis Knesses. Preventing us from attending our Torah shiurim, Hashem is granting us the privilege of yearning for, and thus cherishing, sitting together with our revered teachers and fellow Jews to bask in the redemptive glow of the collective spiritual striving that is limud Torah b’rabim.
Surrounded by the whisper of an existential threat to our daily living and an uncomfortable reminder of the awesome fragility of the human enterprise, we are being granted the glorious opportunity to spend quality time with our children at home; to cherish every moment spent in their presence as if it were the last – all without actual threat to their wellbeing. The extreme measures of caution being advised and enacted by our rabbonim (a testament to their tremendous leadership, responsibility, and wisdom) – which will, with the help of Hashem, prove tremendously effective and avoid all and any danger – have granted us the ability to remember just how much our parents and grandparents mean to us, and how much we ought to cherish all of our relationships with the precious souls with whom we are blessed to share this precariously beautiful march along the narrow bridge of life.
Friends, it is clear that making it through our current situation is not a matter of if, but of when. And when (let it be soon!) the bare and silent halls of our shuls, schools, and batei midrash fill with the song and dance of yiddishkeit for the first time in however many weeks, I wager there will be a palpable sense of that much more joy, vibrancy, intent, and gratitude in the air. It is that gratitude, that sense of appreciation, which we are currently being gifted by the Master of the world, who loves us more than we can ever imagine and desires only that we recognize the awesome treasures of everyday living and our holy tradition.
Yes, we must approach the potential danger with the utmost seriousness and temerity (though never with debilitating fear or panic). Yes, the coming weeks will be difficult. And yes, we will have to continue to adapt to frustrating circumstances. But the breadth of a challenge is always matched by the depth of its opportunity. Today I state, with utmost confidence, that we will survive this dark tunnel of our time to walk out into the blinding light on the other side immeasurably stronger, more focused, and more spiritually developed than ever before.
May this short hiatus from the frenzied rush of everyday living compel us all to think deeply about all of the treasures that fill our experience as religious Jews, treasures we so often take for granted. May we use this unique time-period to build up our yearning and desire for all the things we are currently prevented from engaging with, strengthening our appreciation and gratitude for the awesome gifts of “normal” times. May we utilize every moment spent at home with our children to enjoy their company and remind them of our endless love. And, most importantly, may the measures we are forced to take, together with Hashem’s protection, ensure that we and our loved ones stay safe so our experience of this unique gift in disguise will not be marred, Heaven forbid, in any way, shape, or form.
I close with an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Story of Our Lives”:
“The deepest secret of life is the understanding that all darkness is for the purpose of ensuing light; constriction is only to bring about expansion, night is a preparation for the dawn, mistakes are for the purpose of growth, and concealment is for the sake of ultimate revelation. Just as a child must overcome the frightening challenge of a parent’s distance if he is to learn how to walk, true growth is achieved only when a deeper insight into Hashem’s apparent detachment enables us to cross the great divide and discover His love once more. While, by all appearances, it may seem as if Hashem has forsaken us, the tzaddikim teach that He is ever waiting behind the curtain, hoping that we will be compelled to seek Him once more and rekindle the love of our youth.”
May all of Am Yisrael merit to sing and dance together – in the closest proximity! – in the courtyard of the third Beis HaMikdash with the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days.
With hope in my heart and a prayer on my lips,