An Open Letter to the Ribbono Shel Olam

Please forgive the temerity of addressing You in this way. Actually, for mortal Man to address You altogether doesn’t really make sense. Why would You listen? Why should You care? But You do. You tell us You do in Your holy Torah. We don’t need any more than that.

Furthermore, You teach us that Man has the ability to rattle the gates of Heaven so much that You get up from the seat of Judgment and move to the throne of Compassion.

You’ve also taught us that we cannot really know You, for to know and grasp You, we would have to be You. Moreover, as You showed Moshe Rabbenu, we cannot understand what we (who are locked into time) call present and future. We can only know Your back – the imprints You have left behind in which we can discern Your activity.

So, absent a prophet (whom You have not sent), we cannot begin to discern what these cataclysmic events unfolding around us are all about. We only know that You not only are good, but the very essence of good. But we cannot answer the question of “why.”

On the other hand, You have taught us to always, in such times, ask the question “what.” What is it that You might be asking of us? We know that it begins with teshuvah, with repentence. We are taking the words of the Rambam very seriously, when he writes (Taaniyos 1:3) “Should the people fail to cry out [to G-d] … and instead say, ‘What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence,’ this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses.”

We realize that we must do teshuvah. But teshuvah from what?

Your holy gemara offers various opinions about the identity of Eyov, whose bewilderment at what was happening around him preceded ours. One of those who is now certainly in your immediate presence (when he was with us, his name was Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky) explained that when there are so many explanations that make sense, our job is to learn from each and every one of them.

And so we are doing. Not everyone is connecting with each mussar idea that has been put out there, but there have been enough that everyone, I believe, is connecting with some of them. Just like, in fact, when we study Your gemara and some of the explanations resonate more than others.

You have also reminded us again and again that the changing attitudes is not enough. You want to see something concrete. You want action, behavior. This is where I come in, if You will please excuse the chutzpah.

Again, it is in Your own precious Torah that I find the license to speak up. When You offered the Torah to Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai, You had Moshe climb down the mountain, speak to his flock, receive their response, and climb back up the mountain to present it to You. You knew what they would say. You knew when they actually said it. Why make Moshe formally present the answer to You? It is because this is the way You, despite being an Infinite Being, choose in Your greatness to deal with us mortals, limited by time and space. You deal with us on our terms.

I am well aware that I am not even a nitzotz of Moshe Rabbenu. But someone has to do this. If someone already sent you a formal report, You can ignore mine. But if not, let me make explicit what You already know, but perhaps are waiting for mortals to enunciate:

Your children are doing what You want them to do!

They are doing so much, that only You can keep up with the sheer volume of wonderful things that they have generated.

  • You have padlocked their shuls around the world. What have they done? Have they given up on davening? They have banded together through technology to cry out to you, even though they know this does not “count” as a minyan. But they have not let go of the zechus ha-rabbim, the merit of the many, that stands behind it. They refuse to be silent! They call to You with more vigor and focus than before! They cry to be spared from this terrible plague – but even more to be reunited with You in Your mikdeshai me’at, Your smaller Temples.
  • The schools are all shut. But that did not still for a day the voices of tinokos she bais rabban. Our children sit for hours a day, still absorbing the words of their rabbeim and moros, who now appear to them as images on a screen. But they are learning Your Torah.
  • So much learning had been going on in recent years! Now – no yeshivos, no kollelim, no shiurim, no chavrusos. Not the way they were a few weeks ago. Has that dampened their enthusiasm for Your Torah? It has only increased it! They are still learning – by phone, by WhatsApp, by Zoom. There are more shiurim going on today than before this plague! Hundreds of thousands of Yidden, all in some form of isolation, find that studying Your Torah is part of the life-force that keeps them going – as well as keeping them sane. Yisrael v’Orayso v’Kudsha Berich Hu Chad Hu. Klal Yisrael, the Torah, and You are all One. If You can’t be accessed in the shul and the beis medrash, we’ve found You in Your Torah.
  • Gedolei rabbanan have swung into action, showing the ability of the Torah to meet every challenge, and to be flexible and compassionate without distorting it. They have addressed complex halachic issues day after day to masses of people. (I will mention only a few names that stood out in my limited experience: Rav Osher Weiss, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Moshe Heinemann, the Tzanzer Rov, the Belzer Dayan.)
  • Organizations and individuals have surprised us each day with more and more creative chizuk. Some have made inspiration available in a constant stream (TorahAnytime). Some have made their content available gratis to those who seek to learn (Otzar HaChochmah; Artscroll). Some have come up with daily programming to place worthwhile activity in the hands of families who otherwise would be struggling with their confinement (NCSY). They have even found a way to finish Shas not once in seven and a half years, but every day! (Agudah). No day goes by without new ideas that are shared with Your children.
  • They are looking out for each other, exactly as You would want. One of Your human angels, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, had only one message in his international broadcast. He said that we should be good to each other. The evidence is there that they are doing that. They are calling neighbors who are confined and responding to their needs. They are phoning and WhatsApping to shore up their spirits. Officials who are often brusque on the phone are answering with patience and compassion.
  • They are sharing the simcha of others in ways that no one would have imagined. How proud You must be of the people who have managed to “dance” with the bride and groom from their balconies, radiating their love, showing that physical distance is no barrier to the merging of joyous souls.
  • They have learned from You the value of a single life. In northern Italy, some hospitals are simply not treating patients past a certain age. Over 60 – no respirator. We can’t blame them, because we are not yet at the point that we have to make such decisions, and beseech You that we will not have to. We do note that an Israeli doctor there refuses to make the distinction between age groups. On the other hand, for many days in Israel there had been only a single fatality – an 88 year old Holocaust survivor, who had been otherwise medically compromised. Yet the entire country knew about him, and mourned. One of his nurses wrote a tearful goodbye and appreciation. We understand the implications of each person being created in Your image, and continuing to bear it throughout life.
  • Elsewhere, charitable donations are down. But Your children are not waiting till the world returns (we hope) to some semblance of normalcy. They are setting up special funds all over, to help those who have recently lost their jobs. They are going to raise money now for Pesach needs, and encourage those who have never taken before to accept the gifts.
  • Others scour the news for signs of hope. Your faithful, however, are not fixated on this. Our mood is not dependent on whether the prediction of the hour is horrific or optimistic. To the contrary, what we are hearing from our mentors and teachers – and our ordinary next-door neighbors – is Ein Od Milvado! They are screaming it from their balconies. There is no one else, and nothing else, but You! Our eyes are turned Heavenward for answers – not to the discovery of a magic pill. (We wouldn’t turn it down, mind You. But we understand that if and when it comes, it will be at Your direction.)

If only the Berditchiver Rebbe were alive! Certainly, he would do similarly to what he did in the past, and declare something like, “I, Levi Yitzchok, son of Soro Sosha, tell You that You need to deliver them now!

But I am not the Berditchiver, nor do we have anyone alive close to his greatness. So Your Torah will once again have to substitute. You taught us that the reason for the Nidah restriction is to make a wife precious to her husband like a bride, after a separation of a week. Yet a theme of Shir Ha-Shirim is that You are like a groom, and Knesses Yisrael is Your bride. And the separation between us has gone on already for longer than a week! Is it not time to relent, and welcome us back?

I am not including my address. You know where to find me. It would greatly help, however, if You would give us some better pointers on where to find You at this time. We miss You so much.

We hope You miss us.

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62 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Could we be getting the signals but the noise obscures them? Maybe the current situation can mute some of the noise, if we shut nonessential media out.

    • Reb Yid says:

      The media are our portal to the scientific experts and responsible political leaders who have given us the proper medical guidance about keeping ourselves and others healthy.

      Those who have been oblivious to this guidance, or were defiantly opposed to it until it was far too late, or too slow to act, will sadly suffer unnecessary consequences if they haven’t already.

      • Bob Miller says:

        The things you referred to, Reb Yid, I do consider essential. You don’t know me. I’ve been active in encouraging compliance. I’m against wild rumor that fills some media.

      • Reb Yid says:


        Then I offer you my apologies.

        Most of the time on this site, references to media are usually preceded by the adjective, fake, and in general this medium is disparaged.

        Right now I don’t know what we’d do without them. At least, the ones that are providing actual facts as opposed to spin and denial.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Tell that to the country and whose leadership ignored it and allowed to spread all over the world The team that the President has working on the crisis are working on the issue around the clock as opposed to some who seem more interested in climate control and other far left wing issues than in saving lives

      • Steve Brizel says:

        MAinstream media until very recently had very little to say s out suppression of findings re virus in China

      • Reb Yid says:

        To Steve Brizel:

        The folks who haven’t taken this seriously are an eirev rav. They range from college kids going to Florida beaches during Spring Break to people attending “coronavirus” parties to debate candidates giving each other elbow bumps. They sadly also include a disproportionate number of Orthodox Jews. Some particular Hasidic sects in particular thumbed their noses at this, and frankly by the time Agudah finally came out with their advice (had they not seen what had happened in New Rochelle), it was far, far, too late.

        But our President has been the worst. For too long, he dismissed the virus entirely, lashing out and claiming it was simply a media hoax out to “get” him. He shook hands with other participants in briefings. He has only been concerned about the market (and himself). If you only took his advice on all of this, you would have been buying up the market in late February and enjoying life to its fullest. You’d probably be sick by now. The only person worth listening to in WH briefings is Dr. Fauci. Noticeably sidelined of late since Trump can’t stand anyone, regardless of truth or science, upstaging him or contradicting him.

      • Raymond says:

        Even during such an extreme health crisis like the one we are going through, people such as Reb Yid wil never miss a opportunity to bash with extreme hatred our President, just as they do for any pro-Israel Republican who has any political power. And the most frustrating aspect of all of this, is that my words I am saying will be kept from appearing here.

      • Bob Miller says:

        To be more specific, some irresponsible media outlets, bent on influencing elections, try simultaneously (1) to drown out expressions of reason from the US COVID-19 task force and the President, and (2) to spread unwarranted panic. The task force press conferences are beset by maniacal reporters looking for some gotcha moment and not facts.

      • Reb Yid says:

        To Bob Miller and Raymond:

        Our President is an inveterate liar. That is unquestioned. That he does so in connection with a worldwide pandemic is unconscionable. It is the duty of the media to point out lies and contradictions uttered by our President, or at least force him to own up to them. This is for our own safety! Dr Fauci I completely trust. Everyone else in these “briefings” is just looking to Heil Trump.

        You want to see a leader conduct daily briefings with clear data, facts, projections, logic, concrete plans of action and empathy? Try Cuomo’s briefings. Most importantly, he has repeatedly said, “I accept full responsibility. Blame it on me”. Now THAT’S a leader. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t insult the reporters who ask him probing questions–he deals with the substance.

        Trump? And this is a direct quote from his briefing: “No, I don’t take responsibility at all”. Winston Churchill is turning over in his grave.

  2. dr. bill says:

    Excellent. One philosophical observation based on my understanding of Rambam in the Moreh, but slightly modified/updated. Almost always, natural law and man’s bechirah operate unconstrained. What we do in response to calamity can (rarely) invoke God’s intervention (often called hashgacha) to ameliorate the situation. Regardless, we are halakhically obligated to respond in order to attempt to merit deliverance.

    I know this is jarring to the many who believe a leaf does not detach from a tree except in response to Divine command / hashgacha. But to me, this approach helps deal with the world as we know and perceive it, albeit incompletely.

    • Before you get thrown out of shul (if you would be able to go to one), you should have explained that the leaf example comes from the Rambam himself (in the Moreh). He writes that there is such a medrash (which is the basis for those who disagree with the Rambam), but that we do not follow it. The opposition view used to belong mostly to the Chassidishe world, but it gradually became accepted as a cardinal principle of much of the non-chassidishe haredi world as well

      • dr. bill says:

        thank you; I forgot.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        RYA are there not numerous views that would disagree with the MN in Chazal and Rishonim especially Ramban at end of Pashas Bo and Rambam in Hilcos Taaniyos ?Do not Chazal say that Hashgacha Pratis has some involvement even when you stub your finger?what about the first bracha before Kris’s Shema and Atah Chonen in which HaShem is seen as giving man increased knowledge? WADR such views should not be limited as solely that of Baalei Chasidys as if there Re no earlier sources

      • WHOA!! Not so fast. Nothing I said has anything to do with the possibility of Hashgacha Peratis to humans. Of course the Rambam accepts that! (My vote for the most elegant and poignant place where this is obvious is the end of the Letter to Marseille.)

        All I did was rise to the defense of a commenter who pointed out that there are two distinct shitos out there. (I don’t take sides. When asked questions, I always told talmidim that you can answer any complex issue with two words: machlokes rishonim. Which do I hold from, they asked. I always responded that this was above my paygrade. I can and do live with the tension of different opinions.) Let’s call them maximalist (all phenomena in the universe, without exception are governed by Hashgacha) and minimalist (One form is Rambam, but you’ll see the same in the censored Seforno in Tazria, in his hakdama to negaim): Hashgacha is limited to humans, and even there does not apply equally to all humans, but depends of closeness to Him.

        Rumor has it that the Lubavitcher Rebbe conceded in one of his sichos that prior to the Besht, everyone agreed with the Rambam that there was no Hashgacha Peratis to animals. The Besht’s hisgalus ensured that what previously had been the position of the hamon am became recognized as correct! I once saw a write up of this in Sichos in English. I took down the URL (by hand, at the time). The page no longer exists. Perhaps I missed a character some place along the way. If anyone can locate it, it would be appreciated.

        BTW – one of our commenters was kind enough to point out that MN does NOT refer to the competing position as sourced in a medrash. My bad. I don’t know how that was fixed in my mind. I still have some gnawing recollection of a Chazal that says that an archer’s arrow does not hit a bird; a blade of grass does not peak out from the ground – unless there is a gezerah from on High.

      • mycroft says:

        The opposition view used to belong mostly to the Chassidishe world, but it gradually became accepted as a cardinal principle of much of the non-chassidishe haredi world as well

        May well be accepted by much of non-chassidishe world but not a proof that it is true. Certainly, there are those of us who tend to feel that the Rambam is more likely to be accurate and there are those of us who believe in the medrash as reflecting reality. None of us currently know, unfortunately we will find out soon enough, but problem is when we find out, we won’t be able to communicate the answer.
        Sociologically, there is an interesting correlation that those who demand that we pasken beliefs such as the 13 Ikkarim of the Rambam tend to be those who reject the Rambams viewpoint on hashgacha.
        Perhaps the influence of Chassidism in peoples tfilot, behavior, may be why they tend to follow the Chassidic viewpoint. As a RY from RIETS once said about the 13 Ikkarim, who says we passkan like the Rambam on this matter and assuming we did who says God follows our psak. There are many who believe we don’t passkey matters of belief when there are gedolei harishonim who maintain different positions. How do even know what books are part of Tanach,we are answered only because we have to know which sefarim are meta meh et hayadayim.
        Certainly, Dr Bill appears to be reflecting the hashkafa that is what people my generation were essentially taught where we learned.
        Of course, from the Rambams position one has to ask how does God treat clearly apparent injustice in the world. IIRC RYBS ZTL maintained that once one accepts that there is a just God, then there has to be an olam Haemet to make things fair. Clearly, this world would not appear just.

      • BF says:

        Does Rambam say that there is a Medrash that espouses such a belief? I am looking at the Moreh and cannot find that. Please enlighten me.

      • Nope. I think you’ve enlightened me! I checked MN (3:17) and you are entirely correct. I don’t know where my wrong idea came from. There must be a similar lashon elsewhere in the Moreh that I conflated with the discussion of Hashgach on animals. Thanks for the correction

      • dr. bill says:

        Rabbi Adlerstein, IIRC, Prof. Harvey mentioned three places in the Moreh to examine carefully. The conclusions I reached is hardly provable. Surprisingly, in Prof. Halberthal’s remarkable book on Rambam, he posits 4 ways to address Rambam generally. Opinions and not definitive conclusions are the order of the day. Even I may be wrong :). But I do not think so

    • Bob Miller says:

      Some experience hashgacha on their own merits, but many experience it based on their utility to tzaddikim and other Jews on higher spiritual levels than theirs, or to the totality of the Jewish people. Daily, right now in fact, we experience chesed we didn’t earn or fully earn.

      • mycroft says:

        How about those who don’t experience the chesed that they earned. We can all think of righteous people who do not experience chesed. Chazal knew the problem ofZaddik vera lo,rasha veto lo

      • Bob Miller says:

        Who are we to fully understand what chesed we or others experience? Everyone knows of instances, but as humans we lack the total picture.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Rac Chaim FriedlanderZT”L wrote an excellent treatment of these issues in his series Sifsei Chaim. This, in English, covers the key points (may be out of print but is worth finding):

      “HaRav Chaim Friedlander – renowned Mashgiach, co-editor of Michtav Me-Eliyahu, and expert on the works of the Ramchal, is perhaps best known for his Sifrei Sifsei Chaim, presenting a Torah outlook on a wide range of hashkafah issues.

      Faith & Divine Providence, the second volume in this series to appear in English, addresses the many facets of HaShem’s supervision over the world. Discussing basic concepts such as hishtadlus, bitachon, hashgacha klalis & pratis, he’aras & hester panim, mazal, keli, and more, it provides readers with an essential foundation relating to the marvels and intricacies of how this wondrous world is run.

      Presented in an elegant, easy-to-read, bi-lingual edition, this remarkable sefer will inform, enrich, inspire and enlighten you with a new understanding and appreciation for the Torah’s timeless teachings.

      ISBN: 978-159826-227-8

      Tags: Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, English Books,Ethics – F2278″

    • Bob Miller says:

      This translation may be out of print but covers the topic comprehensively (from Feldheim release info):
      HaRav Chaim Friedlander – renowned Mashgiach, co-editor of Michtav Me-Eliyahu, and expert on the works of the Ramchal, is perhaps best known for his Sifrei Sifsei Chaim, presenting a Torah outlook on a wide range of hashkafah issues.
      Faith & Divine Providence, the second volume in this series to appear in English, addresses the many facets of HaShem’s supervision over the world. Discussing basic concepts such as hishtadlus, bitachon, hashgacha klalis & pratis, he’aras & hester panim, mazal, keli, and more, it provides readers with an essential foundation relating to the marvels and intricacies of how this wondrous world is run.
      Presented in an elegant, easy-to-read, bi-lingual edition, this remarkable sefer will inform, enrich, inspire and enlighten you with a new understanding and appreciation for the Torah’s timeless teachings.
      ISBN: 978-159826-227-8

      • Bob Miller says:

        By the way, much of the discussion about hashgacha pratis and k’lalis suffers from the profusion of definitions. R’ Friedlander’s book cited above, and the coverage of this topic in his Hebrew edition of Sifsei Chaim sort this all out with great clarity.

  3. Judy Kranzler says:

    Kudos, kudos. While I have always found your articles intelligent, enlightening and sophisticated and just plain fun to read, This one is superb. thank you.

    • mycroft says:

      Bob Miller March 26, 2020 at 12:39 pm
      Who are we to fully understand what chesed we or others experience? Everyone knows of instances, but as humans we lack the total picture.

      thus certainly can’t say
      Bob Miller March 25, 2020 at 12:39 pm
      Some experience hashgacha on their own merits, but many experience it based on their utility to tzaddikim and other Jews on higher spiritual levels than theirs, or to the totality of the Jewish people. Daily, right now in fact, we experience chesed we didn’t earn or fully earn.

      We have no idea about Gods manner of action. There is no prophecy, one can examine ones own ways, but never assume that we know what we are experiencing. We don’t know Gods ways.Our job is to follow Gods message which clearly includes following Halacha . Of course as RYBS stated Halacha is the floor of proper behavior it is not the ceiling

      • Steve Brizel says:

        There are many Psukim in Tanach Maamarei Chazal and Nusachos of Tefilah that spell out the Midos of HAShem that we are commanded to emulate in no uncertain terms which by their importance and quantity cannot be dismissed as anthropomorphisms or beyond our ability to understand and implement to the best of our abilities as beyond our intellectual and spiritual pay scales . OTOH Chazal in Brachos strongly entertain the possibility that Moshe Rabbeinu did not receive an answer to Tzadik vrah Lo Radha vtov lo

  4. Raymond says:

    I suppose the thoughts I have on this one might be considered heretical, but I wish to express it anyway just in case my words are some food for thought. Well actually to be honest, I am hoping that somehow what i am about to say, is not heretical at all, but is found somewhere in some legitimate form among the teachings of our Torah sages.

    I think of the Holocaust. There are those (I am talking about Rabbis, here) who say that we Jews actually deserved the Holocaust. Yes, given the extreme, sadistic cruelty of the nazis, such a judgement may sound overly harsh, even cruel on its own level. And yet there is no denying that right there in our Torah, very clearly expressed, are the curses that G-d promises He will visit upon us if we deviate from following His Torah. And I have to say, that the description in those passages sound eerily similar to what actually transpired in the nazi war against us Jews.

    Now here is where the heretic in me comes out, because I cannot help but think that this is indeed overkill. In fact, if anything, if I accept what those Rabbis are saying, then I am confronted with a G-d so utterly cruel, that I have to wonder why I should worship Him. Yes, He gave me life with all of its miraculous wonder, for which I will be grateful for as long as I live, but if He also visits such unbearable cruelty on us if we do not obey Him, then I have to wonder why He is worthy of our worship. It strikes me that being angry at Him is quite a logical reaction to have under such circumstances.

    Obviously, as bad as this latest Chinese virus plague is, it is nowhere near at the level of the suffering that went on during the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it is clear that all of us are finding what has happened to be unsettling to say the least, and sometimes feeling that we will be driven to madness. Money may not be as important as life itself, yet without sufficient income, the quality of life becomes so bad that sometimes it can make one not feel especially happy to be alive. And our economy, at least here in America, has gone from the greatest the world has ever seen, to collapsing like a house of cards within just a few days. Given that America has never been more pro-Israel than it has during this same economic boom, I have to wonder why G-d would send us this economic punishment. And of course, this is not only about going bankrupt, but about lives being lost. Yes, I do see it as G-d’s Way of forcing us to unify to remedy how much animosity that had been going on between the various political factions both in Israel as well as here in America, but does that make us worthy of being put to death? Even this whole lockup thing, in which all of us are confined to our homes, as if we are prisoners…what is this a punishment for, for loving freedom of movement? And as for the Torah learning pointed out in the above article….from what I understand, more Torah learning had been going on around the world than at any time in human history. So why are we being punished, forced to keep away from physically attending Torah classes, and forced to stay away from our shuls and our schools? Especially sad to me personally is that some of us will be entirely missing out on Pesach this year. It is my favorite holiday of all, the birth of our Jewish people, the most heartwarming wonderfully touching (no pun intended) holiday imaginable…and now it is being taken away from so many of us who enjoy and appreciate it so very much.

    In short, I acknowledge feeling angry at G-d for sending us this plague. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that we do not deserve it. I am practically holding my breath, hoping it will come to an abrupt end just in time for all of us to fully enjoy the upcoming Pesach holiday. May it come speedily in our days, Amen.

    • Raymond –
      Anger at G-d, I was taught, is rarely a form of heresy. You can only be angry with Someone whom you intensely believe in. It is a sign of Emunah. Those who don’t believe have a place to direct their anger.
      The existence of apparent evil is the oldest challenge to theistic religions that claim not only the existence of a Deity, but that G-d is good. How can evil coexist with the ultimate Good? Are you raising new issues that haven’t plagued us for millennia, and that got us the Book of Job as a response? As moralists have long claimed, if the very existence of evil seems contradictory to the existence of the Judeo-Christian notion of G-d, is there any difference between 50 million people dying in the Spanish flu pandemic (from which the world obviously survived, BTW) and a single innocent child suffering in a pediatric oncology ward?
      Tomes have been written on the topic of theodicy. I’m not going to compete with them. I will just remind you of a few ideas that Jews bandy about when relating to the topic
      1) If G-d exists (and is the Jewish, good G-d), we are comforted by the fact that He has the ability to make things right and justified. If He (c”v) doesn’t, there is nothing out there at times but pure, unmitigated evil. Let’s say you received email from Heaven letting you know that this whole thing was not punishment, but a global reset for the benefit of society that was on its way to self-destruction. Furthermore, the email showed you that every person who died had been “scheduled” to die five years earlier, but was kept around in order to make this pandemic possible. Would you be a bit less angry? Now, I am not saying for a moment that I believe any of the above. I’m just arguing that if human beings can find ways to justifying His ways at times, even with our very narrow understanding, we should pause to think that He may have very complex plans, with lots of small interlocking pieces that have to fit together.
      2) I’m going to repeat this one. The problem is not with the existence of G-d, but with our knowledge of Him, as He revealed Himself to us, and we experienced Him at crucial points in history, as a Good G-d – the source, in fact of all goodness. You feel let down not because some powerful Deity is exercising His strength, but because you have always related to Him as a good G-d, and the scope of suffering you observe seems to fly in the face of that. But don’t forget for a second that the source of your discomfort is the truth you were taught – that He is Good. You want an explanation.
      3) I don’t know why you assume that this is G-d punishing the world. Might very well be – but there are other reasons why G-d acts, including turning away from the world and letting people see what happens through natural means when He doesn’t pull strings from the background. Didn’t Bill Gates predict a global pandemic a few years ago? He wasn’t arguing that G-d was upset at us for this sin or that. He said it was bound to happen. And remember that our tradition has it that even when G-d does punish, it is not because, as Rodney Dangerfield would have put it, “He can’t get no respect.” Not every unpleasant (or downright awful) thing that happens to us is punishment, but when it is, it is for our good, not His. If we could understand His mind, we would be Him. So we’ll have to wait for the other side of the life-death barrier to get the answers.
      4) Finally, a gem from Ramchal. It is pretty profound. Many readers will scratch their heads. But here goes anyway. Life is (as he taught) a series of opportunities to change ourselves into something more G-dlike so that we are able to earn the World to Come. There are opportunities for us as individuals, and for the other part of ourselves, i.e. how we fit into the collective of Knesses Yisrael. Looking at the latter in particular, Ramchal (in Daas Tevunos) culls a single theme regarding the expected progress of the world. He calls it Sod HaYichud. A simplified version has it that while Hashem is an Absolute One, unlike any other oneness that we can imagine, everything in the world around screams of plurality. The goal of life is to take the disparate strands and related them all to His Oneness. We do this in subjugating all elements of our lives to Him. At least we try. Even if we practiced this perfectly, and showed the world thereby that everything without exception come from Him, there would be one element that would be difficult to square with His Oneness. As you can guess, that element is evil. The ultimate manner in which we make G-d One on earth, so to speak, is to look evil plainly in the face, even when it hurts, and respond, “We can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make sense. But You can’t scare us away. We will insist anyway that Your Nature transcends all of this, and is not threatened by its existence.” Maybe we have an opportunity to do a bit of that these days

      I didn’t post your comment not because of its heresy (although the editors often will do just that; we’re not open to heresy on this blog), but because it needed a response to go up at the same time. I hope that some of this helps

      • Raymond says:

        Thank you so much for not only responding to me, but doing it so extensively. I feel as if I have gone back in time and once again been a part of one your amazing Torah classes that I was privileged to attend in the past.

        I have a response to it, which may be little more than what you have already said. One is that famous, dramatic section found I think in the Talmud. If I recall correctly, Moses himself questions G-d about the existence of evil. As everybody already knows, G-d shows Moses the back of His Head in response, meaning to say that we as mortals cannot know G-d directly, but can only start to understand Him by looking back to the past over how events have transpired. Next, G-d puts Moses in the back of a classroom being taught by Rabbi Akiva. Moses, considered the greatest prophet who ever lived, feels frustrated over not being able to understand what Rabbi Akiva is saying, even when Rabbi Akiva ironically states that the Torah laws he is discussing, comes from Moses on Mount Sinai. And then the next scene transpires: Moses is shown the same Rabbi Akiva being burned at the stake by the Romans. When Moses is understandably horrified, G-d answers him by abruptly telling him to keep his mouth shut. G-d thus answers the problem of evil by not answering.

        Recently, I read quite an amazing biography of the Rebbe, written by Rabbi Chaim Miller. At one point in the book, this very issue of Why Do Good People Suffer was addressed by the Rebbe. Bear in mind that the Rebbe was a scholar of a degree that is positively breathtaking. I get almost dizzy thinking about it! Yet the Rebbe said that he does not know the answer to that question. All he could do was to urge us to build, and to keep on building. And that is precisely the approach that Israel takes in response to terrorist attacks. Jewish victims of terror in Israel would have every right to spend the rest of their lives feeling pity for themselves, yet that is not how they react. Instead, they build and built and build. The area that was hit by the terrorist attack, is soon restored, so that it look as if no terrorist attack ever took place there. And that is what the Rebbe was saying, and it sounds like that was what the Ramchal was saying as well. We as humans are not equipped to get the whole picture of things, but maybe G-d designed it that way, to bring out our compassion for others, and to keep on building our lives and our society in general, to the best of our G-d given abilities.

  5. Steven Brizel says:

    Excellent message! What else can a Basar VaDam say before HaShem Yisborach in this Es Tzara?

  6. J Parness MD PhD says:

    Likhvod Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein, I applaud this article, but it contains information that is not completely true. Many of the Tayere Yidden you speak of in the NY environs have openly defied the closing of shuls, having home minyanim and chavrutot, large weddings that should have been broken up by the police, brissen besoch hatzibur, Purim chagigos, etc. etc. Many are still not getting it and the Gedolei Torah may be doing Zaakah LaShamayim, but they have to be doing ZAAKAH LA’AM! Why is Crown Heights, Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey and Lakewood an explosion of COVID-19? This should never have happened and likely would not have had the Gedolim gotten together immediately and assered what was going on, the ignoring of the advice of the best medical system in the world. We know better. For that, the hospitals in these “great” Jewish neighborhoods are being overwhelmed, hospital workers, nurses and doctors themselves are getting infected, and young people, the ones who are supposed to be low risk, are ending up in ICUs. Rabbonim are dying. This is to our lasting shame as a people. This is the Zaakah Lashamayim that we should be davening for. As a people, “Chatanu, Avinu”, we have become smug in our frumkeit of whatever brand, and now we are suffering. “Avinu Malkenu, Chatanu Lefanekha. Avinu Malkenu, M’na Magefa Minachaltekha. Avinu Malkenu, Mechok Berachameckha Harabim kol Shitrei Chovoteinu. Avinu Malkenu, Hachazireinu Bitshuva Shelema Lefanekha. Avinu Malkenu, Sh’lach REFUAH SHELEMAH L’Cholei Amekha!!! Avinu Malkenu, Kra Ro’a Gezar Dinenu!”

    • Bob Miller says:

      (corrected) Smugness is the evil twin of frumkeit. We all (not just some segment we’re not a part of) need to be vigilant not to let the latter become the former. The measles outbreak was a foretaste of the havoc smugness brings. The idea that we’re above normality can lead to antisocial, self-damaging behavior if not controlled. What goes on in our communities doesn’t stay there. In some communities, doctors who tried to alert community leaders were brushed off for too long.

    • Yossi says:

      Wow, a negative kitrug if I’ve ever heard one. Not saying that I disagree completely but I think we can look to be Melamed Zechus.

    • joel rich says:

      R’ YA is writing chizuk, not an objective actuarial analysis. He picks a lot of positive data points and, IIUC, hopes they outweigh the negative ones (some of which you mention). I listen to a lot of shiurim from a number of sources and though not scientific, I get the impression that most of the “you’ve got to change your evil ways” mussar is focused on important, yet generic, topics. Each community IMHO has some 800 pound gorillas which are not being addressed in their internal mussar (offline for details)

      KT and stay well
      Joel Rich

  7. Sarah Spero says:

    What a great Pen-pal! Can wait to see His response… Thank you!

  8. Reader says:

    “If only the Berditchiver Rebbe were alive! Certainly, he would do similarly to what he did in the past, and declare something like, “I, Levi Yitzchok, son of Soro Sosha, tell You that You need to deliver them now!”

    And if he were alive? And if he would say it? Why do you think that type of talk would work now if it didn’t work then?

    It seem that the רבש”ע wants more, and is not a Berdichever.

    • Bob Miller says:

      There is a concept that tefillos have a far-reaching effect even when they don’t achieve the immediate effect desired.
      We can’t be flip about any tzaddik defending his people.

  9. Gavriel M says:

    Maybe He wants us to stop tolerating rampant cishuf done by ‘observant’ Jews specifically because, not in spite, of their ‘Judaism’? Maybe he wants us to do something as trivially easy as wearing techelet? Maybe he wants us to live in Eretz Yisrael? Maybe he wants 85%+ to stop desecrating Shabbat? Maybe he wants us to build the temple? Maybe he wants us to prohibit idol worship in the land of Israel? Hell, maybe he just wants us to wear tefilin on Chol haMoed?

    Now back to normal programming. Am yisrael chai, skype shiurim, here’s a segulah, blah blah blah.

    • Bob Miller says:

      What type of rebuke, in content and in spirit, do you think people accept?

    • Ben says:

      I refer you to the adjacent words of the Sanz Klausenberger Rebbe (the next crosscurrents piece) as to exactly why your words are unhelpful and unconstructive.
      Look within sir, not without.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Reb Yid – how predictable that you as a devotee of the mainstream media blame the President who has provided Churchillian like leadership while ignoring the facts that the virus has its origins in China where the scientific evidence and scientists warnings were suppressed The RY of RIETS and the Agudah have strongly urged all to stay home and practice social distancing Your comments about the virus in Torsh observant communities border on anti Semitic or self hating Jewish tropes

    • Reb Yid says:

      The modern Orthodox world was, indeed, very quick to heed proper medical expertise and to have its leadership behind it. Did I say anything to the contrary?

      What I did say was that in some quarters this was not the case. Certainly not in some parts of the Haredi or Hasidic worlds and that when responsible leadership from the Agudah finally did come out with proclamations, the damage had already been done.

      As for the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Don’t kid yourself. He is already responsible for causing needless deaths by his total lack of leadership and ignoring many months worth of warnings and briefings he has been privy to. He is totally lacking in any humanity–engaging in petty politics at every turn. He makes George W. Bush look like a saint in comparison with how he dealt with Katrina. He is worse than Hebert Hoover–and at least Hoover had a prominent role as a public servant in saving the lives of millions of Europeans after WWI and WWI through the distribution of governmental relief aid.

      • Raymond says:

        Reb Yid is completely consumed with bashing our President no matter what he says or does, just like Reb Yid does against any pro-Israel Republican with any power. Once again, though, my words will not appear here, because apparently bashing our pro-Israel President is THE Torah way to be.

    • Ben says:

      Gosh that’s a frightening comment. Trumps own tweets and own words make clear to anyone watching that he he didn’t it seriously and ignored scientific advice for too long. And the action when he did was too little. Mainstream media is irrelevent to that.
      In fact, hearing his early responses from Israel after we started restrictions here we were astounded by the hubris and ignorance. Again, his own broadcasts, no media spin involved.
      Churchillian leadership? Has Trump derangement gone so far?
      And if do you don’t realise how far adivce from official rabbinical bodies has been ignored on the ground in some communities, you need to get out more after lockdown is lifted.

      • Bob Miller says:

        No officials in this COVID-19 crisis are omniscient. Some have been willing to keep trying and change course to get the response right, while others, and their supporters, are bent on scoring rhetorical points.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I stand by my comments as to the mobilization of private industry and science by the President.If you want to talk about blame try it in Beijing until China comes clean and don’t bet on that on happening from a Communist totalitarian regime which suppresses scientific evidence and human rights we should be rethinking our policy and thinking that China wants only to be a member of the world of nations to dominating it thanks to our inane outsourcing of industries to please radical environmentalists.we need to tell Beijing No tickee no washee on this and many other issues

      • Steve Brizel says:

        RCK todayvordered Bnei Brak to shut down all minyanim Look at the Yated and you will see a community fighting with its hands behind its Don’t engage in a blame the Charedi world blame game without looking at the real cause -China and dont provide cover for Democrats who would lprefer to see dead Americans on the street than help Trump who has marshaled both science and private MSU’s try in away not parallel in any way shape nice WW2

  11. Steven Brizel says:

    FWIW, there are may sources in Chazal and Rishonim that posit a more active view of Hashgacha Pratis other than Rambam in Moreh Nevucim- the beginnings of a small list would include that HaShem is Rofei Cholim and Rofei Cholei Amo Yisrael which I was taught meant that HaShem inspires man to discover new cures for diseases previously considered incurable, our plea in Nishmas that we be saved from Macahiim l Raim uNeemanim , that Pikuach Nefesh is a very important halachic consideration ,the comments of Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo as to Teva being a hidden expression of HaShem and that appreciating large nisim helps us appreciate small nisim on a daily basis i that we take for granted and Acharei Mos as to the consequences of immoral behavior especially in EY and Rambam’s own comments at the beginning of Hilcos Taaniyos that anyone shrugs at disasters is a cruel individual.

    • nt says:

      Do you seriously think that the Rambam overlooked all the psukim and divrei chazal that refer to HKBH as the rofei? This is a classic case of oversimplification creating nonexistent problems. Everyone agrees that HKBH knows and is aware of everything. Similarly, everyone agrees that HKBH put in place a system of teva where most things happen according to set rules. Nissim g’luyim are when HKBH replaces the laws of teva with a new set of rules. However the Rambam and Ramban can agree that theoretically there is no metaphysical difference between miracles and teva except hanhgah. Thus, Chazal say that the splitting of the Yam Suf, the opening of the mouth of Bilaam’s donkey, etc. were conditions imposed from Creation- that at some point the normal course of things would change temporarily.
      Nissim nistarim are when HKBH intervenes in the normal course of events to produce outcomes that are highly unlikely; the classic example is the Purim story.
      Hashgacha Pratis is when HKBH makes something happen that is unexpected under normal conditions. Say all the stories of someone who was in debt and suddenly comes by exactly the amount of money they need.
      The amount of hashgacha pratis someone gets depends on their tzidkus and emunah.
      Leaves falling from trees is part of normal teva and does not require hashgacha pratis, only klallis. The debate with chassidim is some claim that the falling of a specific leaf is part of some plan and which leaf falls and where matters. Non-chassidim disagree, but they do agree that even a leaf falling or growing requires teva, which is Hashem running the world through normal rules. Thus, the gemara says that for a blade of grass to grow, it requires a malach to make it grow. (The malach is part of the metaphysical teva we cannot see but know of from Chazal)
      I hope this helps.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Look at Rambam at beginning of Hilcos Taaniyos and RambB end of Parshas Bo If course HaShem runs the world and there is Hashgacha Pratis on a communal and individual level and RH especially Musaf reminds us of that fact as does Leil Seder and one can argue that Ain Mazal LYisrael works for the Tzibur and Yechidim My point wa only with those who view the world solely from the detached rational Aristotelian perspective which one can Argue is hardly the sole or perspective of Chazal

      • nt says:

        STEVE BRIZEL: Sorry. I normally agree with your posts but I can’t give you a pass for saying that we disagree with the Rambam in your first post. As they say in the beis medrash, “That’s not even a hava amina.” The Rambam himself in Moreh Nevuchim rejects Aristotle’s overall view as heretical. He only endorses it in one part, that there is no reward and punishment for animals. He is responding to R’ Saadya Gaon in Emunos v’Deos that says otherwise (if I remember correctly, to justify using animals as korbanos). The Rambam says there is no support for that statement in Chazal and there is no philosophical reason to say so. The Rambam does quote Chazal that everything that happens to a person/baal seichel is due to hashgacha pratis.

        To be honest, I’m a little surprised at how confused everyone was on this post. To see a discussion of hashgacha regarding plagues in particular, see Shu”t Rashbash #195.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    This open letter is wonderful Chizzuk, which I think can benefit many of my friends, including many gentile ones. Are you going to make a more gentile-friendly version? If not, mind if I do it with full attribution?

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    The overwhelming majority of shuls and shtieblach are shut tight as are the yeshivos if NA and Israel.Those who require closings of shuls shtieblach and Batei Medrashim by police should be viewed as not just Porrsh MiDarchei HaTzibur as Rambam writes in Hilcos Teshuvah 3:11but in fashioning their own religion that is endangering all others who are compliant and the rest of mankind

    Yes Tefilah Btzibur and Limud HaTorah via shiurim and chavrusos have a huge positive effect but now our responsibilities are to daven and learn within the confines of our homes and to remain there and even celebrate Leil Seder without children and grandchildren For any one who reads this isnd still thinks they are accomplishing something positive by participating in a minyan anywhere think about how Klal Yisrael acted after the Churban and realized that Tefilah would serve as the replacement until the Geulah for the Beis HaMikdash We as Jews are forbidden to have despair and must make our homes Batei Knesios and Batei Mikdashim To act otherwise is to act in a way that shows defiance of Halacha and which is a Chillul HaShem of no small proportion

  14. lacosta says:

    tehillim 89:33 . the Midat Hadin has been given permission to reek havoc throughout the world . We don’t know how many korbanot He demands, but is working double overtime. May it be the last wave of Divine Revenge before the final Geula

  15. Yitzhak says:

    R. Adlerstein writes:

    Rumor has it that the Lubavitcher Rebbe conceded in one of his sichos that prior to the Besht, everyone agreed with the Rambam that there was no Hashgacha Peratis to animals. The Besht’s hisgalus ensured that what previously had been the position of the hamon am became recognized as correct! I once saw a write up of this in Sichos in English. I took down the URL (by hand, at the time). The page no longer exists. Perhaps I missed a character some place along the way. If anyone can locate it, it would be appreciated.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    We need posts and articles about how we are all coping not pictures on web of people acting in a manner that is a Chillul HaShem of immense proportions This magefa knows no hashkafic boundaries

  17. MK says:

    Sefer Hachinuch MItzvah # 169 says that the view that a particular leaf falls from a tree by Divine decree is “very distanced from the intellect”. Rav Hirsch in Shemesh Marpei Page 51 , responding to someone who seemed to be troubled by the Chinuch, explains that the Chinuch holds that the leaf falls as a result of the laws of nature which G-d established at the time of creation and not as a result of Divine
    Hashgacha. He concludes by saying that “such an approach is not perplexing”.

  18. Steven Brizel says:

    The time has arrived for all of us to realize that Showing up en masse right now for a levaya which required dispersal from the NYPD or any other circumstance without social distancing is a terrible Chilul HaShem and staying home is our Avodah this year right now

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    To those whose Yetzer HaRa compels them to seek a minyan walk around without a mask and gloves shop too long or go en masse to a funeral you are aiding and abetting the spread of the Magefa and preventing those of us who are in self quarantine from getting back to a normal life

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