By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
It is now over seven weeks since we were introduced to the coronavirus and locked into our homes. Since then, thousands have died and many more have lost their livelihoods. Life as we knew it has been turned upside down. What used to be perceived as necessities are no longer even necessary, and things we thought we couldn’t live without are long- ago luxuries.
This week should have seen yeshivos reopening and the return of thousands of people who study Torah full- time to their botei medrash. Tragically, yeshivos are empty, their lights extinguished, and their doors locked. We have been bushwhacked, unable to contemplate the sadness and tragedy of our situation. One day blends into the next as we do our best to survive, hang on, put on a good face for our children, and work to strengthen our faith, if only to bat away the fear and foreboding.
We had hoped that by now, life would be returning to the old normal, but instead, we are still in the holding pattern, waiting for permission to reopen, restart and reenergize. Alas, it has not yet happened, and we still find ourselves in a semi-stupefied state. Things are tough out there and probably will be getting tougher before easing up, but as people of faith, we remain hopeful and assured about the future in tough times as in good times. We do not become broken or sad in times like these. We remember that Hashem will enable us to persevere and that all that happens is for the good.
Rav Nochum Yasser was a Yerushalmi Yid of old who would daven every day at the Kosel. He once took ill and was unable to continue his custom. A friend of his came to visit him, and when he got up to leave, he blessed Reb Nochum that he should swiftly recover and be able to return to davening at the Kosel. Rav Yasser became upset with his visitor and said to him, “If Hashem forced me to stay at home, then the Kosel is right here.”
Hashem has us quarantined in our homes with our families. He wants us to function in our homes, doing there what we would normally do in other places and strengthening our relationships with our loved ones. We should not be complaining. We should not bemoan the change in our lives. Rather, we should recognize that what happens is from Hashem and make the best of our situation. There are many activities we can undertake now that we could not have done before. Plus, we can spend much more time with our family members and establish closer relationships.
This week, we study Parshas Kedoshim. Oftentimes, you will be discussing with someone an improper activity and the person will ask you where the Torah forbids that action. The proper response is that it is here in Parshas Kedoshim, where the Torah commands us, “Kedoshim tihiyu,” to be a holy nation.
When we are out and about in the big world, there is a temptation to act like everyone else, and if everyone does something that is wrong, we may also do it. Now that we are locked up, away from everyone, it is a good time to remind ourselves and our children that the “everyone does it” heter doesn’t apply to us.
Kedoshim tihiyu. We have to be better. We have to eat differently, sleep differently, conduct business differently, treat people differently, and always carry ourselves in a way that will cause people to praise the way we act.
Being home with our children offers us the opportunity to teach them lessons such as this, through our actions as well as our words. If they see us living our lives as kedoshim even when life is difficult, it will make a lasting impression upon them, and when things return to normal and they are outside once again with everyone else, they will conduct themselves properly.
We learn this week about the mitzvah of “ve’ohavta lereiacha kamocha,” to love your fellow Jew as much as you love yourself. Now is a great time to inculcate that message – and its importance – to our youngsters.
Lest you think that the mitzvah is a hard-to-reach admonition, look at all the chesed being performed by people in our community. The selfless devotion of Hatzolah members is often cited as the prime example of the charitable work that people perform. As the virus first began spreading, these people had no day or night, speeding to homes and hospitals, trying desperately to save lives. Many of the volunteers make house calls like doctors of old, checking on patients, taking their vitals, and making sure that they were recovering well.
Funds were immediately set up to raise money for the growing numbers of widows and orphans bereft of their fathers and breadwinners. Millions of dollars were raised literally overnight so that the children would not have to suffer the indignity of poverty along with the crushing sudden loss of their loved ones.
Hundreds of people who have recovered from the virus donated blood plasma which is used to help cure people suffering from the disease.
Food banks were set up so that people who either can’t afford food or are too overwhelmed to cook meals for their families are able to pick up ready-made meals every day. Neighbors drop what they are doing and check in on their older neighbors, ensuring that they are well, fed and cared for.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to show the greatness of our people, but we live in cynical and difficult times, when our inclination for kindness and brotherly love is not always apparent. Our unseen enemy has roused a nation and brought its goodness to the fore. Seeing that, should be a chizuk for us and an opportunity to teach our children not to live just for themselves, but to think about and care for others in times of good and bad.
Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim, which teaches that Parshas Kedoshim was delivered by Moshe Rabbeinu personally to the entirety of Klal Yisroel because most of the body of Torah is included there. The parsha begins with the command that we be holy, “Kedoshim tihiyu,” and ends with a similar directive, “Vehiyisem li kedoshim.”
Many commentators wonder how the entirety of Am Yisroel could be commanded to be kedoshim, when it is one of the highest levels a person can attain. Is it fair to demand of simple folk that they rise to the highest rung on the ladder of devotion?
It appears that the word kedusha is commonly misunderstood. We loosely translate the word to mean holy, as connected to asceticism and austerity. Kedusha certainly means that, but it means much more.
A life of kedusha means to live with Hashem and to be enveloped by an awareness of His reality and presence. To be a kadosh means to live with a vision and a dream. It means seeing far, but living within the present. It means never losing sight of the ultimate goal.
A person who lives with kedusha is able to rise above our one-dimensional world and see a bigger and deeper universe. He is thus able to accomplish so much more than others. Other people don’t have time to spend with a boy who wants to learn, lovingly reviewing the Gemara with him repeatedly until he understands it, and then moving along with him and helping him develop into a great talmid chochom, but a kadosh does, because his focus is on the larger goal of spreading Torah.
A kadosh doesn’t tire after sitting with people and helping them through their problems. He doesn’t complain when he speaks to a person for several hours, providing a comforting shoulder and calm direction, because he is focused on the goal of having another healthy person in Hashem’s army.
A kadosh has time and infinite patience for davening, learning and bentching, because he knows that he is studying Hashem’s words and he knows that he is connecting with the Creator.
A kadosh sees himself as part of a greater group, connected with all, and seeking to bring the world and all he is connected with to a better place.
A person who cares about Hashem and His people is a kadosh, because the decisions he makes aren’t guided by personal negius or petty calculations, but by the one essential truth. That is kedusha. His life is spiritual and consumed with big and important things. He is not a slave to pettiness and silliness. Therefore, he is a kadosh. Small things don’t get in his way. He remains focused on the goals set for him in Parshas Kedoshim.
That is why this parsha of Kedoshim Tihiyu was said by Moshe himself behakheil, to everyone. Every person can be a kadosh. Every person can study Parshas Kedoshim and follow its dictates.
Every interaction with another person is an opportunity to show that you are a kadosh. If you present yourself properly, carry yourself with dignity, dress in proper clothing, and speak like a mentch, then you are mekadeish sheim Hashem and demonstrate that you are not caught up in the vagaries of the moment.
If you have time for other people, you show that you are on a higher plane. If you exhibit common courtesies, you show virtues of kadosh. You demonstrate that you believe Hashem is with you and watching you, and you behave the way Parshas Kedoshim indicates you should.
Now, when we are spending more time alone, we have an opportunity to set goals and find ways to succeed at what is really important. Now, when we are by ourselves and have noted how precarious life is, it is a good time to rid our hearts of negativity and hatred. During this period when we have less to do with other people and much of communal life has drawn to a halt, it is a good time to resolve to never become involved in machlokes, but to pursue peace and constructive actions that will serve to enhance and enrich our lives.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Although we are living through a historic and trying time, we need to maximize the advantages this period presents us. We can use the opportunity to daven better, saying each word slowly and thinking about its meaning. Admit it: You’re not rushing anywhere and have time to daven properly. We have time to learn more and the ability to fully concentrate without the usual pressures.
It is a time to imbue our children with our mesorah, to be good, ehrliche people whose lives are occupied with doing good and kedusha.
Life is full of ups and downs, and we all know that this down period shall soon pass. Let us do what we can so that when it’s over, we are tougher, sweeter, happier and better than we were before this calamity began. We will not be able to bring back those whose lives were taken, but we can emulate them, follow in their ways, fill the gap they left with their passing, and prepare the world for the speedy coming of Moshiach.