You are very likely reading this article hunkering down in the safety of your home. We are truly journeying through uncharted territory and unprecedented times. Let me share with you some thoughts.
Your shul may be closed and you may find yourself, to your shock and dismay, davening for the first time without a minyan and thus unable to say, “Amen, yehei shemei rabah…” This comes at a time when you feel you need Hashem’s protection the most but are unable to utilize the power of a minyan to ensure that He listens to your prayers. But there is a silver lining:
For the first time – perhaps ever – we can sit down with an ArtScroll siddur, pray slowly, and learn the meaning of words we’ve never understood. We also have the opportunity to unleash our anxieties and concerns in a thoughtful way as we pray unrushed at home.
Here’s another thought: The media has succeeded in whipping us into a frenzy. I heard someone suggest humorously that we should quarantine the media for 14 days. The idea is not without merit. The consequence of such a continuous onslaught of grim news has caused much worry and gloom. During the cholera epidemic in his time, the great Rabbi Akiva Eiger wrote “shelo tidag,” one should not worry, “v’lo yihiye betzev,” and one should not be sad.
This great gaon knew he was asking a lot from people. Cholera, after all, was a deadly disease – much more so than Covid-19. But the great sage knew, as the Gemara (Masechtas Berachos) teaches us, that worry breaks man’s constitution and makes him more susceptible to disease. As for depression, Mishlei 18:14 states, “Ruach ish yichalkel machleihu; ruach nechei’ah mi yiso’enah – The spirit of a man will sustain him during sickness; while if he has a broken spirit, who will lift him up?” The Vilna Gaon says that the “spirit” of man means simcha. Happiness has the power to defeat sickness.
In a similar vein, the venerable gaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, notes that the curse we utter for the worst individual in Jewish tradition – the moser (a wicked informer) – is “V’lamalshinim al tehi tikvah – The slanderer shall not be given hope.” That, explains the gaon, is the worst possible curse – not to have hope.
It is imperative that we infuse our families with hope. We must remind them that most people will – at worst – suffer some type of cold-like symptoms and that Hashem will help us get through this with His divine kindness.
The Mabit, in his 16th century masterpiece, the Beis Elokim, gives the following advice: In order to extinguish the fires of a plague, it’s worthwhile for everyone to increase the amount of tzedakah he gives for charity saves from death. Furthermore, each person should take stock and improve his deeds and do more good deeds. A person should also pray more fervently and say the section of Ketores once in the morning and once in the afternoon, for the Gemara (Shabbos 89) says that’s a secret way of warding off a plague.
I would humbly add that a person should especially, if he has more discretionary time, learn more Torah since Torah is, as the mishnah (Pirkei Avos) tells us, a “sris bifnei hapuronios – a shield before retribution.”
In these merits, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, no scares, and everything wonderful.