These days, many of us are living in some kind of quarantine – separated from each other and the daily activities that defined our day. We’re locked in our homes, feeling afraid and overwhelmed, worried about getting sick, or the health of our loved ones, or losing work, or how in Heaven’s Name we are going to keep our home-bound kids (and husbands) occupied and make Pesach at the same time. It’s extremely important at times like these to know how to focus inward, to regain a sense of balance, and to strengthen ourselves for the days ahead.
Someone recently asked the Belzer Rebbe what can be done about the coronavirus epidemic? The Rebbe responded with the following verse in Mishlei: “A man’s spirit will sustain his illness, but a broken spirit – who will bear it?” (Mishlei 18:14). Rashi explains that the spirit of a mighty person does not take worry to heart, but accepts with simchah and love whatever befalls him. When one does not succumb to fear and anxiety, he will sustain his illness and will not lose his strength.
We learn (in Pirkei Avos 4:2) “Who is mighty? One who controls his impulses.” One of the most important things we need to do in times like these is to strengthen ourselves and stay positive. We need to catch ourselves from slipping into a state of depression and heaviness, fear and worry, anxiety and panic, and do whatever we can to get out of these feelings if we’ve already fallen into them.
Rabbi Biderman brings a quote from Rav Yosef Chayim, the Baghdadi Chacham, who writes in his sefer Ben Yehoyada: “When there’s an epidemic, such as a virus spreading around, it is good to leave the town because the fear and panic that ensues harms the person and makes him ill, and because a person who fears the disease becomes vulnerable to the disease.”
The Baghdadi Chacham then brings a mashal: “There was once a cholera epidemic in a large town. Before the virus spread, a man met the angel in charge of the epidemic and asked him, ‘How many people are you going to take?’ The angel said, ‘I’m taking 5,000 people.’ When 15,000 people died instead, the man met the angel again and asked him why he had lied to him. The angel replied, ‘I didn’t lie. I only took 5,000 people. The remaining 10,000 people who died brought the disease upon themselves because of their fears.’
“Fear and panic [actually] bring the disease,” concludes the Baghdadi Chacham. “We have a mitzvah to protect ourselves,” continues Rav Biderman, “but why the fear? Hashem is with us!” Fear, panic, depression, and anxiety hide Hashem’s Presence and push Him away. The Divine Presence does not rest [on someone who is] in a state of sorrow” (P’sachim 117a).
According to the Rambam, Hashem will only rest His Presence on one who is b’simchah (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:3) and part of this simchah, is the realization of being connected to and in the presence of Hashem.
Life will always be filled with challenges – sometimes big, sometimes small. The key to staying calm and positive in challenging times is doing what we can in order to seek out and connect to the Source of simchah – to Hashem and the hidden light within ourselves and those around us and the situations in which we find ourselves.
In the next column, we will discuss specific examples of how we can control our emotions and come to actually feel that Hashem is with us in this challenging time.
Material was previously published on www.ShiratMiriam.com.