I once saw a great quote: In the same vein that there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no believers in a metropolis. In a city that has every amenity and every type of store possible, including convenience stores that have numerous brands of every type of commodity, one hardly feels vulnerable or the need to be reliant on a Supreme Power.
It is uncanny how, during the last couple of weeks, we are suddenly becoming believers, despite living in communities and cities where we hardly lacked anything.
It’s quite surreal. If anyone had told us about such a reality even a few weeks ago, we would have waved him off as being delusional. Flights across the country for less money than it costs to fill up your car with gas, the NBA and NHL seasons suspended, March Madness canceled, and MLB opening day postponed indefinitely, Broadway and Disney World – indeed all places of recreation and fun shut down, bars and restaurants only open for takeout, people being ordered to stay home and minimize contact, people being begged not to visit elderly parents and neighbors, yeshivos and shuls closed and children home all day, the country and much of the civilized world heading for a recession and economic collapse, and living in fear of tomorrow. It seems like a scene from a bad movie – only it’s our current reality!
Rabbi Elimelech Biderman quoted the Gemara (Bava Kama 60b) that states that during a plague one should “gather his feet” and stay home.
The Ben Ish Chai comments that the Gemara is only referring to a general plague. However, during an epidemic, one should flee. He explains that a contagious virus causes people to panic, and the panic itself makes a person more vulnerable and susceptible to contracting the disease!
He then quotes a story he says was related by doctors about a town ravaged by an epidemic. Before the plague began to spread, someone met the angel in charge of the epidemic and asked him how many people he was going to consume with the disease he was spreading? The angel replied that he was going to kill 5,000 people. By the time the epidemic passed, however, 15,000 people had died. The man went back to the angel and asked why the angel had lied to him. The angel replied that in truth he had only taken 5,000 people as he had said. The other 10,000 brought the plague upon themselves due to excessive fear and panic.
Rabbi Biderman concluded that now, during a time of pandemic, we must adhere to medical advice and do our utmost to protect ourselves. But beyond that, we must realize that panic and hysteria can be more damaging.
For some people, such an idea will only increase their panic and fear, because now they will be even more afraid since they are fearful. To them, the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt ring true: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We undoubtedly have reason for concern. But we need to strive to transcend our fear. To do that we have to work on strengthening our emunah! We have no other options.
Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita quipped that in Eretz Yisrael they have a Sar HaBitachon (Defense Minister) upon whom they rely, while we have the Shaar HaBitachon (the Gate of Trust – the section that discusses strengthening bitachon in Hashem in the sefer Chovos HaL’vavos) upon which we rely.
Rabbi Biderman concludes: We need not fear, because we are in the Hands of Hashem.
The incredible things that have occurred in the recent past include the surge of faith and recognition of the Hand of Hashem in the world. Who else could have orchestrated this pandemic from a microscopic organism that took the world by surprise?
It turns out that there is faith to be found in a metropolis. Sometimes it just has to be revealed.