by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
This article was written for the refuah shleimah of Yehoshuah ben Masha (no relation to the author) who needs a yeshuah
The period of COVID-19 has caused a number of people to fall ill. It has also caused a number of people to get examined only to discover that they have a grave underlying disease. This brings up a fundamental hashkafah question. But first, a few points.
The Rosh HaShana prayers delineate for us the true destiny of the Jewish people. The Jewish nation were the ones that introduced Hashem to the world, and in the future it is the destiny of the people of Israel to introduce more knowledge of Him throughout the world so that all peoples of the world will form one group in order to fulfill the Creator’s Will.
The fulfillment of this ultimate destiny is a gradual process that began long ago — at the very birth of Israel as a nation.
The Talmud (Chagigah 12b) tells us that the world stands upon twelve pillars. These pillars are the twelve pathways of the tribes of Israel, who represent the essence of who the Jewish nation actually is. These twelve tribes have an unparalleled connection to HaKadosh Boruch. This is why Dovid HaMelech describes them as Shivtei Kah (Tehillim 115:16), the tribes of G-d. Klal Yisroel has a unique ability to connect to HaKadosh Boruch Hu, one that we believe always was and remains unparalleled among other nations.
Generally speaking, we can further these connections to Hashem with 1] greater and deeper Torah study — G-d’s law, with Avodah or Tefillah — Divine service, and with acts of Gmilas Chasadim — acts of lvingkindness to others. The Mishna in Avos delineates these three paths and explains that they hold up the world — they also further our individual connection to the world’s Creator. These three all work in different ways.
Delving deeper in Torah study demonstrates our desire to be closer to Him, and to His word.
To understand how the Avodah method works, it might be worthwhile to examine a parallel with parents. Imagine one who was very close to his or her parents. After they have passed away, this person will cherish every experience and encounter with them, from childhood to adulthood. Such a person will cherish how their mother cried the first day of school, the love and devotion at every stage of life, including taking their grandchildren on trips and shopping with them. Tefillah, prayer. should be looked at in the same way. Each tefillah, each bracha recited – offers a different and unique opportunity to bond with HaKadosh Boruch Hu.
And finally, there is the third method of being like HaKadosh Boruch Hu. The Gemorah tells us, Mah hu rachum af atta rachum mah hu chanun af atta chanun.. Just as He is merciful and kind so to must you be merciful and kind. Hashem is the ultimate source of goodness and Chessed, lovingkindness, and we should strive to be like Him and do Chessed too. The good feeling that we get when we do Chessed is because that Divine section within all of us described as that “Chailek Elokah mimaal” is charged and highlighted whenever we do acts of Chessed.
People that are given stress or challenges can generally be divided into three groups:
The first type consists of those who Hashem finds incredibly special. Hashem brings about the Tzaar precisely because He wants and desires the added closeness. This group is why the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel and others such as Chana, did not, at first, have children. Hashem wanted their closeness to Him through their Tefillah – prayers. The Gemorah in Yevamos (64a), “HaKadosh Boruch Hu Misaveh leTfilasan shel Tzaddikim, Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous.”
A second group are those that Hashem wants to give more Schar, more merit, by bringing them closer to Him. This group is also included in those described in Mishlei (3:12) in the posuk, “For those to whom He loves, He afflicts..” In Yishayahu (57:15) the Posuk says, “Ani eshkon es dakah, I shall dwell in those who are broken-hearted..”
These people may be average or beinoni, but for some reason Hashem singled these people out to get ever closer to Him.
A third group are those people that Hashem wishes to give an atonement on some action that they may have done. One such case is Avimelech. Another case l’havdil, is Miriam who spoke, on a very subtle level, negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.
Whichever group one is in, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam – Nesiv HaYesurin chapter 1) explains that when Hashem brings these afflictions, just as a father comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us.
We should therefore, welcome the even closer entry of Hashem into our lives.
The Maharal explains that the Yissurin somehow prepares the person for greater Dveikus Bashem — connection and cleaving to Him. It removes the “Chomrius” physical nature of the person, in the words of the Maharal, and fully spiritualizes the person. As proof he cites that an Eved, a slave, is called Chomrius and when he loses a tooth, the master must set him free. Certainly, writes the Maharal when someone’s entirety is afflicted with Yesurim, that person’s entire essence becomes spiritual. The Maharal further explains (chapter 3) that the person becomes Kadosh, holy.
The Gemorah in Brachos (54a) writes that we are obligated to make a bracha on “bad news” just like we make a bracha on “good news.” Chazal tell us (Brachos 5b) that we should accept all Yissurim, affliction or pain, B’Ahava – with love. Yissurin B’Ahavah is an important level to achieve. The Maharal (chapter 3) brings a proof from Iyov that if one reaches this level, the schar that a person gets
is multiplied manifold.
This may be a high madreigah to reach, and we should not be down on ourselves, if , occasionally, we don’t reach it. Whenever we do reach it, we get that high level of schar.
The Gemorah in Brachos (60b) says that a person should always say, “Kol Ma D’avid Rachmana l’tav avid – whatever Hashem (the Merciful One) does, He does for the good.”
Elsewhere, (Nesiv Ahavas Hashem p.43) the Maharal explains that this attitude even has the effect of changing what might be perceived as negative things around to fully perceivable positive things. Understandably, this is a very worthwhile attitude to adopt.
The Midrash tells us (Bereishis Rabbah 32:3) that we have reservoirs of strength that allow us to withstand the difficult Yissurim that are sent our way. What we must do is tap that those reservoirs within us.
One of the Psukim that we recite in Havdalah, is actually a fulfillment of a Mitzvah whenever we recite it. “Hinei Kel Yeshuasi, evtach velo efchad” It means, “Before me is Hashem of my salvation – I shall have faith in Him and not be afraid.. Another Pasuk that helps us focus is, “Hinei Lo yanum velo Yishan – shomer Yisroel – Behold He neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.” This pasuk helps us focus on the fact that Hashem is with us in this journey of ours..
No one is privy to the reasons and calculations of how the Creator runs the world. When tragedy strikes, however, it has always been our way to find solace in the words of the sages of Isrel. The Maharal wrote these words centuries ago, and it is this author’s hope that they will offer some consolation and understanding to those who are suffering pain.