אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא: ואלו הן, כיבוד אב ואם, וגמילות חסדים, והשכמת בית המדרש שחרית וערבית, והכנסת אורחים, וביקור חולים, והכנסת כלה, ולוית המת, ועיון תפילה, והבאת שלום בין אדם לחברו - ותלמוד תורה כנגד כלם.
These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: the honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between man and his fellow—and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.
We recite the above daily prayer at Shacharit. While it serves as a formula for our daily living, it might be easy to take its message for granted. Yet, upon reflection and without guidance and inspiration we might find it unexpectedly challenging to fulfill these daily spiritual requirements during the current coronavirus. So, while we can’t respond to their call to service in the traditional fashion, we can be inspired through the guidance of our leaders coupled with our innate propensity towards the performance of chesed.
Honoring parents: We have actually been observing the honor of our parents counterintuitively by remaining separated from them. We have compensated for the unnatural distance through frequent check-ins and special deliveries.
Acts of kindness: The list of the innumerable acts of chesed on the part of members of our many communities is remarkable and heartwarming. From simply buying groceries and supplying face masks or lining up to donate plasma. No one who saw the video will forget the welcome home greeting Eli Beer, founder of Hatzalah, received upon disembarking the plane to the sight of hundreds of Hatzalah volunteers with their emergency vehicles standing at attention.
Attendance at shul: There is no replacement for tefillah b’tzibur. Perhaps upon our return to shul we will be inspired to make some changes for the positive in our demeanor and (presence) among our shul mates.
Visiting the sick: While there is no substitute for an in-person visit to the sick, we do not abandon those who are sick and infirm as we remain in technological contact, while tens of thousands engage in heartfelt tefillah on their behalf.
Escorting the dead: This may be the saddest consequence of the virus: the inability of family, friends and colleagues to properly pay our respect to those who have passed. As with long-distance learning in our yeshivot, we must be grateful for Zoom to provide us with the ability to pay a personal shiva call. Distance does not lessen our deeply felt need to grieve for lost ones and offer condolences.
Escorting the bride: Many anecdotes have emerged as to how the quarantine has actually resulted in happier couples and their families, freed from the tyranny of wedding expenses while enjoying their driveway and backyard venues. Online greetings and gifts remain welcome as always.
Absorption in prayer: While tefillah alone has been difficult for so many, we hear frequent testimony about how the quarantine has given us more time to experience greater kavanah in our daily tefillot.
Bringing peace between man and his fellow: An argument can be made that the coronavirus has actually resulted in an explosion of avenues for the performance of chesed for our fellow man, not seen before.
The study of Torah: There is a certainty that through the dedication of our pulpit rabbis, Torah leaders and Torah organizations, and through the application of technology, we actually have had expanded time and nearly limitless opportunities to learn Torah. It is hoped that this change will remain in place as we return to our former lives.
In our evening prayer, tefilat Maariv, we recite: כי הם חיינו, ואורך ימינו
For they are our life and the length of our days.
The study of Torah and the performance of the mitzvot is the essence of our lives. It is ennobling to see how a world-wide pandemic cannot blunt but can actually enhance our individual desire to follow its precepts.
Stanley Fischman’s column, Seven Steps to Mentschhood, appears monthly.