May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yad Hashem During a Most Unusual Year

The Jewish Link recently ran five pages of visual submissions from its COVID-19 design-a-mask contest for kids. The winning entry, from 13-year-old Sara Gans, was colorfully drawn and contained the words “Hakol Mishamayim” in Hebrew. Like everyone else, my family and I have personal stories about this most unusual year, but I’d rather focus on the words of this young lady.

I’m a strong believer in Yad Hashem and His overseeing of world events throughout history. I suppose the opposite would be the belief that everything in life is random, a series of chance occurrences. If I learned anything in my decades at Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn listening to the words of Rabbi Yudin, it’s that there is no such thing as chance. As COVID-19 and subsequent events unfolded this year, Hashem’s stamp appeared unmistakable.

Let’s start with the timing. Purim, which is known for God’s hidden control of events, was on March 10. The pandemic was officially declared on March 11. Additionally, of the millions upon millions of people living on the East Coast, the very first COVID-19 cluster involved a group of Orthodox Jews who attended the Young Israel of New Rochelle. Take your choice. A marker had been placed.

The days leading to Passover were arguably the most frightening, as this mysterious virus was exacting an enormous toll on Jewish communities. If, over the years, the ever-more-lavish getaways were taking us further and further from the true purpose of Passover, this was a sobering correction, as even routine extended family gatherings were off limits. At Passover’s arrival, no one was allowed to leave their homes. Without warning, a fierce reset had taken place as we celebrated eating poor man’s bread in the most basic of settings. If the goal of Passover is to picture ourselves as having left Egypt as slaves, this turn of events certainly made it easier to fulfill.

Perhaps most unsettling was the suddenness with which our communal world as we know it was slammed shut. Our foundational mandate to celebrate with others on joyous occasions and provide comfort during sorrowful ones was untenable. The absolute basics, davening with a minyan, attending a funeral, were no longer viable options. The question was “why?”

By mid-May, the virus’s curve had flattened and started to recede, especially in the tri-state area, home to the highest concentration of Jews. Talk focused on when we could reopen our cities, towns and shuls and return to “normal.” At this very time, the Shabbos of May 16 featured the double parsha of Behar-Bechukosai, with the latter focusing on reward and punishment. Within it was a powerful admonition. Do not treat Hashem with “keri,” which is translated as casualness or, alternatively, to regard events in our lives as random—a failure to acknowledge Hashem’s role. The term is mentioned in the parsha no less than five times.

It’s interesting that in the weeks following the lockdown, so many of us viewed minyanim through a very different lens. No longer were they obligations or even inconveniences, but instead something greatly anticipated. Of note were the mandatory distancing requirements and the strong suggestion that we forgo socializing before and after davening to reduce the potential for virus spread. How many of us consider a trip to shul, particularly on Shabbos, as one part connecting with God, another connecting with friends. Another reset had been thrust upon us. Participating in a minyan, or any communal event, had become anything but a casual act.

Belief in Yad Hashem necessarily includes the concept that God puts people and events into place to effect whatever changes He deems necessary. With that, let’s examine the Donald Trump phenomenon. Love him or hate him, we can all agree that Trump’s presence has had a profound effect on the country and the world. Until Trump, every person who assumed the presidency since the country’s founding had risen through the ranks either politically or militarily. Trump, who never spent a day of service in either capacity, suddenly occupied the most powerful position on earth. On the face of it, that’s remarkable.

Without ticking off specifics, no U.S. president has done more to strengthen the State of Israel than Donald Trump, with the Jewish state currently on the verge of a potential series of breakthrough Mideast partnerships that would have been deemed impossible not long ago. On the other hand, the level of safety and comfort of Jews in the U.S. have fallen dramatically on his watch. In 2019, we saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in four decades, with the vast majority of synagogues and Jewish institutions scrambling to implement stringent security measures in the face of real and threatened attacks, something considered inconceivable here just a few short years ago. And it was happening during a period of unprecedented economic prosperity!

With the perfect storm of the worst racial unrest in 50 years, the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years, and likely the most pronounced internal divisions since the Civil War, many of us for the first time are seriously concerned about the future viability of this country. A remarkable 250-year run, the greatest galus ever experienced by the Jewish people is now in question, and along with it, the last remaining major resistance to an ingathering of exiles that, since 1948, has touched virtually every region in the world.

No one knows how this will all play out and over what period of time, but we would do well to ponder the words of Sara Gans, “Hakol Mishamayim.”

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles