The Rebbe began by citing the verse in Yeshayahu (26:20-21):
Go, my people; enter your chambers and lock your doors behind you. Hide but a short while, until the anger passes. For Hashem shall come forth from His place to punish the dwellers of the earth for their sins, and the earth shall disclose its bloodshed and shall no longer conceal its slain.
There will come a time that there will be a judgment in the world directed against the enemies of Israel; what will be required of the Jewish people is to go into a room, close the door, and await the end of the process.
The destroyer of the Second Beis HaMikdash was the evil Titus, who tortured and slaughtered untold numbers. At the same time, he defiled and then burned the Holy Temple. The Gemara in Gittin (56b) relates that he was punished by a tiny creature that entered inside of him and gave him great pain before finally killing him.
We live now, 2,000 years later, in a modern world with all sorts of items that were unimaginable a generation ago. And yet, this tiny virus has overturned this whole complex world from one end to the other in just a few days. It is essential to contemplate that just as this virus cannot be seen by our eyes and yet it has the power to transform the whole world, so too the Almighty is not seen but runs the entire world. And who knows what plans Hashem has for these tiny creatures to yet accomplish. But clearly, only the Almighty could be behind such a powerful tiny creature.
We should realize that just as we do not see the virus, we also do not see the Hand of Hashem behind all this. However, just as with the right instruments one can see the virus, with the right “instruments” you can also “see” the Almighty, as is hinted in the very last words of the Torah, that it was given “to the eyes of all Israel.” Those instruments can be accessed – as is mentioned in many works and throughout chasidic literature – through a deep connection to Torah….
It is forbidden to say about anything – certainly about something so major – that it is just a random event. We must attempt to ponder: Why did Hashem bring this upon us?
Some think they are able to find causes and assign blame. However, the teaching I received from my sainted father, z’chuso yagein aleinu, amen – which is one of the fundamental teachings of chasidus – is that we are not to look at the deficiencies of others.
It is not the desecration of Shabbos that is to blame – nor any other sin that other people may have transgressed. We must especially refrain from finding fault during a time when we are supposed to awaken Heavenly mercy. G-d forbid, we should not arouse negative judgment against the Jewish people. We should only speak in their defense.
Instead, at such a time, everyone should look at himself: What can I improve about myself and my avodah for me and all of klal Yisrael? Let them look at where they can improve in Torah, t’filah, and, most of all, in the way they treat other people.
People are frightened and stressed, and naturally, they feel pressured and may tend to lose patience at home and outside. In this situation, when the children are at home – everyone is at home – (along with the pressure of Pesach and all its preparations, which yields its own stresses) the primary behavior that we must accept upon ourselves is to be joyful and filled with simchah – to exude calm, to be peaceful with the children, to spend time with the children – the boys and the girls – even more than usual.
I must state – and this is the primary message I want to get across – that although righteous women have been accustomed to devoting all their energy to “preparing the house for Passover,” this year must be different. I have a tradition that I received many times from my sainted father zt”l that Pesach was not intended for making the house new once again or to do “spring cleaning” of all kinds of dirt that may have accumulated.
What is required for Pesach is only removing chametz, and according to halachah, nullification [i.e., Kol Chamira] is sufficient. In fact, my father recounted that in the home of his grandfather – the B’nei Yisaschar – they would clean the house on the night before Pesach as they searched for chametz, and that was the primary “Pesach cleaning.”
Furthermore, my father himself instructed his children, when they had small children of their own, to take care that the mothers shouldn’t go beyond the basic obligation of cleaning at the expense of caring for the children, and should not turn the house over to make it clean.
The yeitzer ha’ra is ready to bring into your home pressure, stress, and irritation about the children – and to cause tension between husband and wife – trying to convince them that “this is necessary in order to make Pesach.” One needs to know that one point of anger – one moment of stress – is far worse than having chametz in the home!
It is our duty – that of parents and righteous women – to ensure calm in the home. Pesach will be kosher with doing less. Do as much as you can calmly with no stress – and nothing more. Place far more focus on the mitzvah of “V’higadta l’vincha (You shall tell your son).” Make sure the children grow positively in their spiritual and material needs. Be careful that they come to no harm during these weeks.
What is wanted from us now from heaven – and Jews just want to do the will of G-d – is for our homes to be islands of calm and happiness. G-d is leading in the way that – in His Infinite Wisdom – is what is needed now; let us gladly accept His will with joy and without any angry fights and shouting.
Let us maintain calm and avoid aggravation and not be stringent when it is not necessary, while at the same time not be lenient with what is truly forbidden.
Of course, it is important not to transgress the prohibition against bitul Torah, and one should use his learning time productively. Still, most of the learning should be with the children – as the Torah states, “And you shall teach it to your sons.” Prepare them for Pesach.
Let us yearn to bring – even this year – the Korban Pesach. If one can, one should study the halachos of Korban Pesach. But what is most important is to engage in chesed – to do what we can to help others. At times like this, when many homes are having difficulties, it is up to us to help with whatever possible. Older girls can help neighbors or the elderly….
My message to children and young men is to be very careful – especially in these days when the challenge is greater – to respect their parents, which is such an essential Torah command.
Unfortunately, there are many who are ill, and if the illness can be prevented from spreading by adhering to the government guidelines, they should not be underestimated. The dictum of the Torah “You shall be very protective of your life” has no limit. We desecrate Shabbos and Yom Kippur even if there is a small chance that life may be in danger. And it is even more important to be careful to avoid harming others than to avoid harming oneself.
Of course, one should add a few chapters of T’hilim to one’s prayers and ask of G-d our Father, our King, to prevent a plague from your heritage nation. As I think of this prayer, I note that the prayer is not m’na mageifah (prevent a plague), but rather, “m’na mageifah mi’nachalasecha.” Perhaps the reason for this is that it is known that a plague will come before the coming of the Mashiach, but we are asking that it not unduly affect am Yisrael.
We should endeavor to instill in our sons and daughters deep confidence in Hashem, as Hashem is the Protector of Israel. Encourage and embolden them; help them appreciate the concept of doing kindness with others, both spiritually and physically.
If we do this, may we merit complete salvation: “With joy you will you come out, and with peace you will bring” – speedily in our days.
Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer is a rabbi, attorney, and writer living presently in Forest Hills, and hoping to go on aliyah. He has served as rabbi in several congregations, and helps individuals with wills, trusts, and mediation.