With Corona still on everybody’s mind, for obvious reasons, tons of talks have been given about it. Everybody with their take on it. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, some take inspirational stories and produce them as “emunah-building,” which is unfortunate. Emunah, faith in Hashem, is not some emotional feeling. It’s something that takes a lifetime of constant working on, and many, after hearing some talk on “emunah” suddenly feel as if they are on a high level, and then go out and foolishly act upon their new level of existance.
There has been one essay that my wife and I have seen, which after reading it (needed to read it three times, due to its depth) sort of knocked out anything else we have heard. Mainly because it’s solely based on Torah and not a personal perspective nor nice stories to listen to. It was written by Rav Reuven Leuchter (the original talks can be found here: https://meihadaas.com/eng/shiurim/recently-added), and below is only a recap (and an incomplete one) in my words of what he said.
I hope it could shed a better light on what we are currently going through.
A plague is defined by the fact that it increases amongst the population quickly and indiscriminately. When a plague hit the Jewish people in the desert, Aharon HaCohen “ran among the congregation” (Bamidbar 17:12). If there is no cure for a plague, one must separate the living from the dead as Aharon did, in order to stop its spread. A plague moves quickly from one person to another, as we are currently seeing, and the only way to stop it is via separation.
The spiritual side to a plague acts in a similar way. The Gemara (Berachos 4b) explains that the Angel of Death, when taking a human life, takes eight steps, however during a time of plague, he takes only one. His mission is accomplished quickly and speedily. Usually, (personal note: this is something deep which I do not fully comprehend) there are many calculations done before a person’s life is taken. However, during a plague, such calculations are not necessarily made and a person’s life can be taken before “going through the bureaucracy.” (Again, how this works in terms of Hashem’s calculations, Rosh HaShanah, etc., I do not know and is beyond the scope of this work.) And like the physical plague, the Angel of Death does not discriminate between the righteous and evil (Bava Kama 60b), as we are seeing with so many righteous people dying today. This is similar to what we saw in the last plague of Egypt. If you were home, you were safe. If you were outside, you were not. Righteous or not.
During this period, the regular "courts of justice," where merit and demerits are weighed, are suspended. A new "order of law" is now in place, something far higher. As an illustration: Usually, one would go through a local court system, where the judges don’t know you, but look carefully through your actions, for good or bad. You have the ability to defend yourself, and the judges will listen to you. Now, your judgement comes directly from Hashem. There is no weighing of this or that, there is no defense. He knows everything and any objection you can raise. He is the Ultimate Supreme Court. Now, we are being judged and dealt with on an entirely different level than before. This is a completely different framework, which has no connection to human deeds. The local court system deals with whether we do mitzvos, whether we don’t do mitzvos, how we do them, etc. But now, this is well beyond that. And that is why we cannot subscribe a reason for the plague, such as loshon horah, lack of modesty, lack of simplicity in expenditures, Shabbos desecration, etc., because this system is beyond even mitzvos.
While we give lip service to the concept that “It’s all in Hashem’s hands,” we truly don’t believe it. How many people say that refrain when they hear somebody else is sick or somebody else does not have a job, yet can say that exact same mantra with the exact same belief, when they become sick or lose their income?
How many times do we think: I keep Shabbos, I learn Torah, I dress modesty, etc., thinking that those mitzvos will protect us. If we think that, then we really do believe that there ARE some things that are in OUR hands.
Yet this plague is teaching us otherwise.
“No merit,” says Rav Leuchter (and I saw this same concept from Rav Yerucham Levovitz when speaking on this subject one hundred years ago), “even that of Torah and mitzvah performance, can save us; those who believe otherwise share the same arrogance as the Western disposition to control the world by means of scientific advancement. Neither they, nor we, wield the reins of absolute power.”
Our response to a plague is different than any other phenomenon. While it is always good to increase merit, we need to have a higher connection “with a place beyond even the Divine attribute of reward and punishment.”
Aharon HaCohen’s response to the plague was to take the Ketores (incense) and bring it among the people. Again, he did not heal anybody, he simply stopped the plague. The Ketores, unlike any other sacrifice, did not remain in this world at all. It completely ascended to Heaven, leaving no physical remains in this world.
Ketores, the power to stop plagues, is something which goes straight to The Source, with no physical connection. While we do not possess the Ketores today, we have something else in its place.
“May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Tehillim 141:2).
When we make a bracha on food, we are bringing holiness from Above to the food below. Similarly with tzitzis: the holiness goes into our clothes. Tefillin: our body.
In general, when we daven, we speak to Hashem, tell Him what we are missing and ask him to fill in those "missing pieces" in life. We are bringing holiness down from Above into our physical world.
However, there is a higher form of davening, which is similar to the Ketores. It is when a person annuls himself before Hashem as Rabbeinu Yona writes, “He should think in his heart as though he stands in the heavens.” The Nefesh HaChaim writes on this, “This means that a person should feel in himself that all sensation of the body, which is dust from the earth, is annulled, and all his feelings must relate to the spirit alone, which is tied to its heavenly source with great love” (Gate 2, Chapter 14).
Regarding this mode of prayer, if you are asking, "so...what does this mean in reality?", I would venture to guess that one aspect is to daven for Hashem's sake rather than our own. That His Name should be revealed in this world.
With constantly thinking of Hashem and His control in the world, concerning the Jewish nation as a whole, and concerning our individual lives, our emunah will grow (see lessons on “The Six Constant Mitzvos” to help in this area).
While mitzvos, brachos, and certain types of prayer draw the higher worlds to the lower worlds, proper prayer and proper emunah (recognition and faith in Hashem) bring a person, who is in the lower world, to the upper world.
This needs to be the goal during this plague. Higher-level prayer and higher-level emunah elevates us from this mundane world to higher worlds. Just as a plague works on a higher spiritual level in how it brings death, so too must we operate in a higher level to bring life.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos!