The date is January 1, 2020. Venue is Metlife Stadium. Close to 100,000 Jews are packed in to celebrate the completion of the 13th Daf Yomi cycle. It was a day that any there would not soon forget. A day to be proud of Torah and proud of the holy Jews who persevered through the seven and a half year marathon. It was hard not to jump on the bandwagon. How could I not?
One of the cool phenomenons of daily Daf learning is despite the pages of the Talmud we are learning being ~2000 years old, if you play close enough attention you can find relevance to your daily life. Especially for more significant events. So now let’s fast forward a bit.
Purim is here. We have just completed the first Mesechta. But outside something else is happening. The world seems on the verge of hysteria with the outbreak of COVID-19, commonly known as Coronavirus. Everyone seems to be grappling with exactly how to handle the situation, so I will just share my own personal 2 cents. I would like to stress that I am not arrogant or foolish enough to say I know the reason for this or anything else. I am just a Jew sharing my thoughts.
The first and most obvious feeling that hit me (and what I believe what harbors the panic and hysteria) is a feeling of helplessness. In modern society we like to think we mastered medicine and science. The Black Plague could not possibly happen again now. We are smarter and more prepared. We have answers. If there is a hate crime , we can either legalize or illegalize guns. If there is a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami we can quickly and efficiently mobilize a response. But from where I’m standing with this it seems like no one really has a clue. This can be a paralyzing and frankly frightening feeling.
But then I did Tuesday’s (3/3/2020) Daf (Berachos 60a);
דְּאָמַר רַב אַחָא: הַנִּכְנָס לְהַקִּיז דָּם, אוֹמֵר: ״יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהַי שֶׁיְּהֵא עֵסֶק זֶה לִי לִרְפוּאָה, וּתְרַפְּאֵנִי. כִּי אֵל רוֹפֵא נֶאֱמָן אָתָּה וּרְפוּאָתְךָ אֱמֶת, לְפִי שֶׁאֵין דַּרְכָּן שֶׁל בְּנֵי אָדָם לְרַפּאוֹת אֶלָּא שֶׁנָּהֲגוּ״
As Rav Aḥa said: One who enters to let blood says: May it be Your will, O Lord my G-d, that this enterprise be for healing and that You should heal me. As You are a faithful G-d of healing and Your healing is truth. Because it is not the way of people to heal, but they have become accustomed.
Rav Aḥa is saying that people should not practice medicine as they lack the ability to heal; rather, healing should be left to G-d.
אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: לָא לֵימָא אִינָשׁ הָכִי, דְּתָנֵי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: ״וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא״ — מִכָּאן שֶׁנִּיתְּנָה רְשׁוּת לָרוֹפֵא לְרַפּאוֹת.
Abaye responded and said: One should not say this, as it was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael that from the verse, “And shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:19), from here we derive that permission is granted to a doctor to heal. The practice of medicine is in accordance with the will of G-d.
The point here is crucial. We (or I) have become so accustomed to science and medicine as fact that we forget Who is in control. R’ Aha statement (at least at face value) is that we should not be practicing medicine at all. If one is ill he can turn to G-d and pray. If that sounds silly or foolish it is just because we have become so wrapped up in reality as we experience it that we forgot it is G-d that is healing us. But ultimately the fact of all facts is that anything and everything is G-d. So in a way it may make more sense to just pray as opposed to going to some flesh and blood being in a white coat.
Further, Abaye does not refute any of the above. He just adds that (as Sefaria.org so succinctly explained) that “The practice of medicine is in accordance with the will of G-d.”. But what we must remember is that it is an accordance and not as opposed to. We must always remember Who is the Source and who is the mere messenger.
(I do realize these are 2 very short paragraphs on a complex topic, and this does deserve to be explored much further)
Back to us, every now and then we get a wake up call. To me this is a reminder that we are not in control. We do not and never will have all the answers. All we can do is live our lives as best as we can and pray and trust in G-d. This leads me to my next point.
אָמַר רַב הוּנָא אָמַר רַב מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי מֵאִיר, וְכֵן תָּנָא מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא: לְעוֹלָם יְהֵא אָדָם רָגִיל לוֹמַר: ״כׇּל דְּעָבֵיד רַחֲמָנָא לְטָב עָבֵיד״.
Rav Huna said that Rav said that Rabbi Meir said; and so it was taught in a baraita in the name of Rabbi Akiva: One must always accustom oneself to say: Everything that G-d does, He does for the best.
כִּי הָא דְּרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא דַּהֲוָה קָאָזֵיל בְּאוֹרְחָא. מְטָא לְהַהִיא מָתָא, בְּעָא אוּשְׁפִּיזָא לָא יָהֲבִי לֵיהּ. אֲמַר: ״כׇּל דְּעָבֵיד רַחֲמָנָא — לְטָב״. אֲזַל וּבָת בְּדַבְרָא, וַהֲוָה בַּהֲדֵיהּ תַּרְנְגוֹלָא וַחֲמָרָא וּשְׁרָגָא. אֲתָא זִיקָא כַּבְיֵיהּ לִשְׁרָגָא. אֲתָא שׁוּנָּרָא אַכְלֵיהּ לְתַרְנְגוֹלָא. אֲתָא אַרְיָה אַכְלֵיהּ לַחֲמָרָא. אֲמַר: ״כׇּל דְּעָבֵיד רַחֲמָנָא — לְטָב״. בֵּיהּ בְּלֵילְיָא אֲתָא גְּיָיסָא, שַׁבְיַיהּ לְמָתָא. אֲמַר לְהוּ: לָאו אֲמַרִי לְכוּ כׇּל מַה שֶּׁעוֹשֶׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַכֹּל לְטוֹבָה.
The Gemara relates: Like this incident, when Rabbi Akiva was walking along the road and came to a certain city, he inquired about lodging and they did not give him any. He said: Everything that G-d does, He does for the best. He went and slept in a field, and he had with him a rooster, a donkey and a candle. A gust of wind came and extinguished the candle; a cat came and ate the rooster; and a lion came and ate the donkey. He said: Everything that G-d does, He does for the best. That night, an army came and took the city into captivity. It turned out that Rabbi Akiva alone, who was not in the city and had no lit candle, noisy rooster or donkey to give away his location, was saved. He said to them: Didn’t I tell you? Everything that G-d does, He does for the best.
The story illustrates an example where what seems as “bad” to us ends up being for the best. (On the following Daf there is a more tragic story with R Akiva). But the point is we can not understand G-d’s ways. We just have to do our best to live as ethical Torah-true Jews and the rest is in His hands.
Obviously this also connects to Purim. (It must!) The Purim story is the tale of reaching the point of absolute despair and then from seemingly nowhere comes salvation. At the climax of the story, when Esther is risking her life by entering the King’s chamber the Gemara (Meggila 15b) relates;
ותעמד בחצר בית המלך הפנימית א”ר לוי כיון שהגיעה לבית הצלמים נסתלקה הימנה שכינה אמרה (תהלים כב, ב) א-לי א-לי למה עזבתני שמא אתה דן על שוגג כמזיד ועל אונס כרצון
The Gemara returns to its explanation of the verses of the Megilla. The verse states with regard to Esther: “And she stood in the inner court of the king’s house” (Esther 5:1). Rabbi Levi said: Once she reached the chamber of the idols, which was in the inner court, the Divine Presence left her. She immediately said: “My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:2). Perhaps it is because You judge an unintentional sin as one performed intentionally, and an action done due to circumstances beyond one’s control as one done willingly.
This past week I was listening to a shiur from R’ Yakov Klien (full shiur here) who quoted from R Kluger of RBS a play on the words א-לי א-לי למה עזבתני. (I subsequently heard the idea again from R’ Shay Schachter, here) The simple reading is “My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me? But with different vowels the word can be changed to “Le-mah” , which means “For/Because of what”. Rather than feeling absolute despair and hopelessness, Esther realized there is a purpose and used these feelings to surrender further to G-d. If we understand or at least recognize that there is a bigger picture that we cannot understand we can operate under all circumstances.
I’ll finish with an amazing quote from Viktor Frankl that R’ Shay Schachter shared in his class;
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.