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.