By Dr. Gila Jedwab
During the past nine weeks, we have had the rare opportunity to see people’s inner nature magnified and easily discernible to the naked eye. People’s personalities are walking down the street in plain sight as if we’ve all been flipped inside-out.
I’ve heard Oprah reference this phenomenon. She has said that whatever you were before you won the lottery, you just become more of that after. If you were generous, you become more generous. If you were a jerk, you become a bigger jerk. The money doesn’t change your innate nature; it amplifies what was already there.
I have seen this same phenomenon emerge during this pandemic. I call it Personality Magnification.
- The kindhearted made food for their elderly neighbors.
- The germaphobes bought out Lysol.
- The hoarders cleared the shelves of toilet paper.
- The nurturers baked sourdough bread.
- The spiritual communed with G-d.
- The anxious worried themselves sick.
- The rule followers followed more rules.
- The anarchists broke the rules.
- The caregivers strapped on hazmat suits and went to work.
- The entrepreneurs made cool masks.
And so on.
It’s interesting to figure yourself out. I’m a “spiritual anarchist writer workaholic.” What are you? If you can’t figure yourself out, ask anyone who lives with you.
Think about anyone you know and see if this is true: whatever they were before coronavirus, during coronavirus those traits became magnified.
What has astounded me has been the surfacing of a certain type of person. Someone suddenly willing to risk his or her life or livelihood for what they believe in.
Dr. Vladamir Zelenko, a brave voice in the world of medicine, championed hydroxychloroquine, which he had been giving to his patients to address COVID-19. The official world of medicine tried to silence him, shame him, and discredit him. He never backed down. I just read that he had to hire a bodyguard. Most of us would have shut up at the first criticism. He didn’t.
A police officer in Washington state spoke out on YouTube after witnessing fellow officers violating people’s constitutional rights. At first, his bosses congratulated his bravery. Then something changed, and his bosses started threatening him. They tried four separate times, each time more aggressively, to get him to take down the video. Each time he refused. How many of us would have caved after that first threat? He ended up losing his career.
What makes these individuals different? What is the small seed inside them that suddenly got magnified? What element inside them gave them the strength to risk it all for the sake of their beliefs?
I think it was a facet inside their relationship with G-d, an internal integrity that the current events suddenly made ten times more visible. And ten times sturdier.
Their integrity withstood the massive trampling that came to crush it. These outliers didn’t care about the opinion of any man. They cared only about staying true to G-d, the most real relationship of their life.
I believe that this is what faith in G-d looks like when it goes through a pressure cooker. It transforms from an internal, invisible emunah to external, obvious bitachon.
I define emunah as the personal and intimate relationship we have with G-d inside our hearts. I define bitachon as the chance to prove it.
Today I saw a young girl walking in the park with two friends. My daughter recognized her immediately as the youngest girl in a family that had a child who passed away in a terrible accident. If I were that girl’s mother, I would be tempted to hide her away and never let her leave my sight. I always knew that this girl’s mother had emunah, but seeing how freely she lets her daughter walk around town showed me something ten times that. It showed me this mother’s bitachon.
I look at emunah as an invisible relationship that only G-d can see, and bitachon as a manifestation of that relationship, visible to all. The actions of bitachon give emunah a discernable shape — a shape that turns out to look a lot like unwavering loyalty, integrity, bravery, and resilience even after the worst has happened. Especially after the worst has happened.
We all have holes in our emunah, leaks that need repair. Our job in life is to find them and fix them. To pry our clenched fingers off our eyes and look at whatever it is that scares us the most. Then gradually swap out that fear for trust, one brave move at a time. Whatever that may look like for you. It’s different for each one of us.
There is a question as old as mankind: Why do we have so much suffering in our world? Suffering breaks our hearts, but at the same time also seems to be our most important work. Suffering invites each one of us to do the hard work of cultivating unconditional trust in G-d.
How is trust generated? One way: by gently placing our fate in G-d’s hands with the calm assumption that He only wants what’s best for us and that He will deliver it.
When it comes to suffering, no human explanation for suffering can come close to the explanation waiting for us when we get to the other side. Elie Wiesel summed up this sentiment with the following concise insight: “The Holocaust must forever remain a question mark.”
As I look at all the suffering from this pandemic, I’d like to make an observation about what I’ve seen. If none of us, in our lifetime, is spared from suffering, the question becomes why we are all given a turn.
Maybe it’s because suffering allows us a chance for our greatest victory. Maybe suffering gives us the exquisite opportunity to magnify something precious we have inside ourselves, our relationship with G-d. Maybe G-d wants none of us to get out of this world without having had this chance.
Rabbi Akiva said Shema out loud in the midst of horrific suffering, turning his inner reserve of emunah into a historic outward display of bitachon. Maybe that’s why he smiled while he was being burned alive; he was proud of himself for not blowing the opportunity. He was given the terrifying chance on a world stage to reveal the secret relationship he cultivated with Hashem inside his heart, and he succeeded.
Maybe this is why dying al kiddush Hashem holds such a hallowed place in our religion. Maybe it was the opportunity for those brave souls to put their Divine relationship on public display, and, in doing so, inspire others to get as close to G-d as they did.
It is said that souls that die this way merit to be closest to G-d in heaven. Maybe they merit this because of the closeness they achieved with G-d on earth, during their suffering. Maybe dying with devotion to G-d stirs devotion of G-d in others, and the reward for bringing other people on board is exquisite intimacy. Your face close to His Face, for eternity. The type of Divine intimacy King David’s heart asks G-d for in Tehillim.
In his book on finding meaning in life, Viktor Frankl laid out one important rule for suffering. He said we should never seek out suffering. But if and when the suffering does come, don’t squander it; use it to create meaning.
I’d like to add something to this thought. What is the most elevated way we can give our suffering meaning? By using the suffering to tell Hashem how much we trust him. Maybe suffering begins to transform and abate the minute we use it to lift our heads to the sky and converse with our Creator.
Suffering can be used as a way to tell Hashem that He is the only thing important to our heart. Suffering can be used to show the world that we boldly and steadfastly choose nothing and no one besides Him. Just like those outliers did.
If we do this work of growing emunah in our hearts during the quiet times, that seed will take root and be ready for any challenge that comes. Bitachon will become an effortless response.
If the world is ever tested like this again, that internal emunah will materialize in an unprecedented outpouring of massive bitachon in action. A world where the only thing that gets magnified is our relationship with Hashem. A whole world of people not afraid to take a stand for their beliefs. Maybe this could make up for the times we blew it. Hopefully we will never have to find out.
Dr. Jedwab has been practicing dentistry for nearly two decades years. Her dental practice is in Cedarhurst.