As we get deeper into the coronavirus crisis, I’m finding these articles increasingly difficult to write. Who can sit and write during a time like this? Who can even sit? I find myself flitting around my house from one activity to another, my mind racing from one thought to the next at lightning speed. As one day blends into the next, I even lose track of time. What can I write? So many people are sick and dying. So many tragedies. So much suffering and fear. I’ve written about subjective fear in these pages in the past, but I don’t believe there is anybody on this earth who would not agree that these are terrifying times. I can barely look at the news, particularly the news coming out of New York. I hear what is going on in our communities and I want to run away. I am worried about friends, family, our communities, and all of mankind. I contact my friends with trepidation. So many of them have the virus or have family members who have it. My T’hilim list grows and grows.
This is not the first plague the world has seen. But there has never been a time that communication allowed us to be privy to so much information about what is happening in every corner of the planet. On a scientific level, this information is helpful. The more we learn about the virus from patterns in other countries, the more equipped we become to deal with it on our own country. But on an emotional level, being flooded with scary statistics, graphs, warning videos, and heart-rending photos makes it difficult to maintain any kind of sense of calm. What can I possibly say?
I’d like to paraphrase a very popular chinuch expert whose classes have been attended by so many Anglo women in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She sent out an open letter to her chinuch classes in which she says that this plague is not about the world. Hashem is sending a direct message to us. He is reminding us that He runs the world and we should come back to Him. He has tried to get us to focus, but we didn’t pay attention. Now He is making it crystal clear Who controls the world.
We all know on an intellectual level that Hashem runs the world, but I’m not sure that we always feel it on an emotional level. When life is normal, we go about our business with an illusion of control. We assume we will wake up in the morning; we will travel and safely arrive at our destinations. Our kids will go to school, learn something, and come home, safe and sound. We will find the groceries we need in the supermarket. We will go to shul and daven together. We will go to the doctor’s office and be seen by a doctor. We believe that it is our efforts that lead to our livelihood and shidduchim. Things won’t happen without our input. We have many expectations about what will be. No more assumptions. Our sense of control is being challenged. We control absolutely nothing. Nothing happens without the will of Hashem. Most of us are not going to work. Our kids are not going to school. We try to avoid shopping in supermarkets which are, in many cases, missing the most basic items. To the extent possible, non-urgent medical care is being provided online. No visiting doctors at this point. We grew up with a high value placed upon davening in shul, but we are no longer able to daven in shul. We can assume nothing. We need to relinquish our false sense of control and surrender to the One who truly does control everything. And in His omnipotence, omniscience, and love for us, gives us what we need, even if we don’t yet understand why we need it.
As the Rebbetzin said further, Hashem is forcing us to focus on Him – to come back to Him. We need to leave Hashem to run the world as only He is capable of doing, and put our efforts into what we CAN control. We can do our best to fortify our homes with simchah and emunah and help others around us. We can learn to appreciate that every breath we take and everything we have is a gift from Hashem. We can try to use this experience as an opportunity to grow and internalize the messages that Hashem is sending us. This is no small challenge these days, especially in the places that are hardest hit. May Hashem speedily bring us better times.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.