Whoever thought we’d be here? Almost overnight we’ve been forced into self quarantine with social distancing. Washing our hands until they are chapped. Reported cases are doubling every day (not to mention the untested cases). And the stock market appears to be in free fall. Needless to say, things look pretty bleak.
Bitachon is a Jewish character trait I’ve been learning and writing about over the last few months. If you’re not familiar, bitachon loosely translated means trust in God. Not just that He exists, but that He is personally involved in our lives and is running the world.
But how could anyone possibly have bitachon in a time like this?
Though we’ve not been through such a world shattering event since World War II, hard times do happen. And though they are difficult, that doesn’t mean God isn’t with us. In fact, the Rabbis say He may be more present and available to us than at any other time. So here are some ideas to keep in mind, whether you’re trapped at home with four children, running low on toilet paper, a little nervous about that slight cough, or insecure about the future of your job.
It’s Not Meant for Just Convenient Times
The nature of a person is that when they are calm and in the right mind, of course they can pursue improving character traits. But when the guano hits the fan, we can’t be expected to stay on track, right?
Well that’s actually the whole point. The journey of making a behavior we want to have a permanent part of us is a long one. It takes practice, persistence, and lots of two steps forward, one step back. But it is actually for these very moments where it is so easy and justifiable to slide back into our old ways, that we can make the conscious decision to press forward. Yes, running up a steep hill is harder than on level path. But you grow so much more that way. So given that we are tired, tested, unsettled, and nervous, every time you are able to make the conscious decision to try connecting to God, it gets you farther than on a regular virus free day.
Knowing you will be Sustained
Toilet paper. The mascot of the virus. Everyone is laughing at the absurdity as this happens to be the item people are most stocked up on. However if you happened to be in a store (which you shouldn’t be unless you’re desperate) and came across one lonesome 12 pack, would you not consider buying it? It doesn’t matter you’ve already stocked up and you only use one roll every two weeks. You still have that worry, maybe things will be like this for another year!
A core mechanic of bitachon is knowing that God is your sustainer. But in order for that to work, you have to behave that way. If you’re stocked up on toilet paper, then maybe that 12 pack isn’t meant for you. Some people weren’t able to get out to the stores before the virus hit. My parents had been traveling and only got home this past Monday. The elderly and the disabled aren’t able to get out at the crack of dawn and they certainly shouldn’t have to be breaking social distancing rules to brave the lines.
Yes you have to do basic preparation. Don’t sit around thinking God is just going to send food to your door. But buying into the panic mindset is the opposite of bitachon. Trust that when you need something, He’ll be there for you.
Where is God?
If bitachon means God loves us, wants what’s best for us, and is our sustainer, how are we to explain these times? The answer is that God is trying to send us a message. For the first time in a long time (if not ever) the entire world is focused on one single problem. A tiny virus has brought every government, every financial institution, every community to a standstill. And it practically happened over night. For me it seems clear God is saying He runs the show. So what is He trying to tell us, specifically? I’m not going to pretend like I have any idea. However there are some interesting things I have heard.
The prevailing belief is that Covid 19 stems from a market in Wuhan China from someone eating a bat. (I don’t know if this is at all true, so if you know better PLEASE correct me.) Now a bat isn’t considered a kosher animal. However, a non Jew isn’t obligated to keep kosher laws. So what’s the lesson?
As Jews, we’re supposed to operate as if all the world’s problems are a reaction to something we are doing. So even though this virus may have physically come about by someone eating a bat, we as the Jewish people perhaps should be looking at how we are handling and thinking about food. If we keep kosher, are we being lax in our observance? Are we being wasteful? Since we’ve all been forced to isolate, perhaps the problem was with how we haven’t been sharing our food with our friends or those who need it?
It’s Called Corona Virus
A wise and profound friend, Howard Witkin gave an interesting idea from the first part of Pirkei Avos 5:11.
“Pestilence comes to the world for the death penalties prescribed by the Torah that were not delegated to the courts and for the improper use of produce from the Sabbatical year…”
Essentially what that means is that someone who did a capital crime, but because of the limits of our courts, got off scott free, and someone who eats food from the Sabbatical year (the Torah says every 7 years you’re not supposed to work the land), because of those plagues come into the world. On that, the 16th century Rabbi known as The Maharal says that the mishneh is saying these two things are a result of one not believing in God’s Kingship over the world.
Then Howard pointed out is that this virus is known as the Corona virus, which means crown, a representation of the King. God wants us to remember He’s King. Not our money in the bank, not our stocks, not our job, Him. And that’s really what bitachon is all about, knowing that everything happens is really Hashem. So perhaps when you are making your brachas, make sure to really hit that Elokenu Melech HaOlam.
Give Shabbat A Shot
The virus really hit America during the week of the Torah portion of Ki Sisa, which contained the sin of the Golden Calf. Also in that parsha the Jews who particularly sinned were stricken with a plague. This week, the Torah portion opens with Moses instructing the Jewish people to keep Shabbat.
For the first time since Israel’s modern existence transportation, theaters, sports arenas, restaurants, beaches, and malls will be closed this Shabbos. Another interesting phenomenon was that the Pope said in a 60 Minutes interview that he felt the way Jews keep Shabbat was the right way to be keeping the idea of Sabbath. (The interview was from 2018, but the video clip seems to have gone viral this week.)
I’m not saying that if you don’t keep Shabbat, the Corona virus is your fault. However, since you’ve been stuck in the home for a week already, why not try to make Friday night and Saturday a little different. Do you really need to know any new Corona developments? Wouldn’t it be nice to leave that craziness behind for a day? Maybe just try it for a few hours.
It’s Your Own Darn Fault!
Okay not really. But despite all the, “This Rabbi said this” and “This Youtube video said that,” we have to remember that God is intimately personal. That’s also a core mechanic of bitachon. So now is a time to reflect. What do you think you need to work on? Where have you been experiencing the most friction? Where are you getting stuck? What’s the thing you know you should stop doing, but are using this pandemic as an excuse to continue that behavior?
God has shaken up the world to send you a message. If this isn’t going to wake you up, what will?
Little Bit of Hope
I just want to point out we are experiencing a world wide plague just before we go into Passover, the holiday known for plagues. Should we be terrified 9 more are coming? Doubtful. Next week we will be entering the month of Nissan (which is the month we celebrate Passover.) Nissan is the month of revealed miracles. Even its name means miracle in Hebrew. So despite the predictions of continued social distancing, I personally believe very good things are around the corner. So keep spirits up.
Also remember, staying in and self quarantining for everyone right now is saving lives. So almost no matter what you are doing (as long as it’s not prohibited) to keep yourself busy and happy and sane has with it the merit of pekuach nefeseh (saving a life). How awesome is it that we are getting merit for binge watching Netflix! Be well, be safe. Remember God is closer than you think.