By Dr. Gila Jedwab
I experienced something deeply personal and somewhat frightening recently. The Torah spoke to me, in my kitchen.
Ideas popped into my head, in real time, and lined up with specific words inside the Torah, as I was reading them. They gelled together to become one cohesive thought. The world became crystal clear to me for a fleeting moment. I’m hesitant to speak about it because it feels so intensely personal. I take this chance in the hope that someone will feel what I am feeling, and in the hope of awakening people from their fears.
This is a long one. Get ready. It has five parts that come together at the end.
I woke up on Shabbos morning with two words bouncing around in my head. “וידם אהרון” — “And Aaron was silent.”
Something pushed me to look that incident up. It was the incident when the sons of Aaron died right in front of him and his remarkable reaction was silence. What words did G-d offer Aaron that provided him instant comfort? How was Aaron able to have immediate acceptance of G-d’s will and be silent while the bodies were lying in front of him? Normal people would be screaming.
These were the words of comfort G-d gave to Aaron: “With my holy ones I will be sanctified and I will be honored before the entire people.” How could this one simple sentence provide Aaron such immediate and profound relief?
This is how. It was a massive, whopping perspective shift. These words jolted Aaron immediately out of his human perspective and into the perspective of his soul.
To paraphrase Rashi, Moshe said, “Aaron, my brother, I knew that the House of G-d would be made holy through those most intimate to Hashem. I thought it would be me and you. Turns out, it was your sons.”
How did this comfort Aaron? In a flash Aaron understood that up there, this made perfect sense. Aaron’s precious sons achieved the holiest goal. They brought the glory of G-d down to the world. And because of this, they merited to be closest to G-d’s presence in heaven. What could be more comforting than knowing that G-d is holding your kids close?
Those ten words instantaneously tuned Aaron into the frequency of his soul, and tapped him into the perspective of heaven. Back then, Aaron received messages directly from the mouth of G-d. The rest of us are not that lucky. Nowadays, we must fine tune our soul to receive this comfort. Our soul is our only device that can pick up the signal of G-d, and use it to translate messages. Fear jumbles the message, trust adjusts the dial back to crystal clear reception.
This spiritual perspective delivered to Aaron right from G-d’s mouth allowed him to bypass the normal human reaction of wailing and denial and come immediately into silence and surrender. For us, this process may take a little longer, because there is a signal delay.
The amount of time, in minutes, hours, days, weeks, or decades, it takes to shift focus from your human eyes back to your soul’s is something I have come to call Reaction Time.
What is the worthwhile gift that waits for us inside this shift? Divine friendship and lasting comfort.
Aaron’s reward for his lightning fast Reaction Time is granted in the next chapter. He merited that G-d spoke directly to him, not through his brother, for the first time.
The commensurate reward for trusting G-d could be only one thing, access to more G-d.
When I heard the news that the reopen date jumped by another month, I felt like Governor Cuomo came to my house and kicked me in the stomach.
Let’s just say my Reaction Time wasn’t good. It took me a full two hours to calm down and say to G-d, “Your will not mine.” I’m not proud.
Each of us has different things that scare us and knock us out of our soul’s perspective. For some, it is the talk of death tolls and virus. For others, it is talk of endless shutdown and loss of livelihood.
Whatever type of bad news triggers us more, our common goal is to shave minutes off our Reaction Time. To reset the clock back to trust and keep trying each time for our personal best.
Shemittah was the next topic I encountered that Shabbos morning. All its laws were laid out in the first parashah of last week’s double header. Shemittah is the commandment from G-d to rest the land every seventh year. The entire design of this mitzvah is to build our trust in G-d.
How does shemittah build trust? This question sparked a synapse back to a video I watched the day before from Rav Elimelech Biderman about the manna. He quoted the Sfas Emes.
The first generation of Jews wandering the desert viewed the manna as a huge miracle. Subsequent generations got used to the manna. The miracle got old to them and the seeing it fall from heaven was no longer no longer exciting.
The last generation of the desert were finally allowed to enter the land of Israel. They were told for the first time in their lives that putting a seed in the ground would grow them food. The flush of excitement returned. Now that was a miracle!
Miracles need change in order to stay exciting. When they get old, they become so dull and lifeless that we can’t even see them.
This is exactly what the cycle of shemittah refreshes for us. Working for six years and then stopping for one keeps the miracle alive. This flip-flop cycle reminds us that G-d is the one growing us our food, not the land. Shemitah keeps the trust in the relationship alive. It reminds us to turn to G-d instead of the plow.
If you think about it, every mitzvah in the Torah keeps the relationship with G-d alive. How? The mitzvot make us wonder why our Creator has asked us to do something strange and inconvenient. When you are in love, you are always curious about the inner world that drives the other. You want to deliver on their requests even if you can’t fathom a reason. When you deliver on the strange requests of the one you love, without asking too many questions, that builds trust both ways. Trust and curiosity feed the fire of emotional intimacy, between human beings and with G-d. So we do whatever G-d asks of us because it shows Him that we are curious about His inner life and we trust that he has a good reason.
My daughter begged her boyfriend to cut his long Sefirah hair that he loved. He couldn’t understand why it meant that much to her. When he walked into my house with his hair buzzed, it not only showed me that he wants the relationship, it showed me he trusts that my daughter has a good reason.
This is where things started to turn scary for me. The second parashah, right after shemittah goes into all the beautiful/horrific scenarios if we do/don’t follow the laws of G-d. The juxtaposition of shemittah to these two possible scenarios is no accident. (Rabaynu Bachya)
Why are these two chapters next-door neighbors? To hint to us that whichever of the two scenarios will be selected as the one that plays out is decided by one thing, the singular thing that shemittah stands for, Trust.
If we trust G-d, we get heaven. If we don’t trust Him we get hell on earth. What does G-d feel when we trust Him? G-d uses an interesting word here for that: לא תגעל נפשי. When we trust Him he will not be disgusted with us. Without trust, there will ultimately be disgust.
Many patients come to my office terrified. As they relax and see how much I have their back, a miraculous shift happens. Their fear slowly settles down until they can hardly remember ever having been afraid. Why? Because they grew to trust me.
When they don’t trust me and ask a million questions and tighten every muscle of their face, it makes my job almost impossible. I can tolerate visits like this for a while but if the fear never abates, I can’t help but feel disgusted. If they can’t get past their fear enough to trust me, I know our relationship will always be a struggle. They are lost inside their stress and can hardly even see me in the room. They don’t see the effect their anxiety is having on my ability to deliver my best work.
Back to the parashah. Somewhere in the middle of בחקתי is where the words in the Torah really started wigging me out. In exchange for trust (shemittah), G-d promises us the most heavenly existence. A world of security, וישבתם לבטח בארצכם. A secure, luxurious setting where no enemy can harm us.
I can’t even talk about the nightmarish events that will ensue from not trusting Him. It fills my heart with terror. Inside that description of hell, the words started taking on an eerily familiar shape. They started ringing a bell.
ונסתם ואין רודף — You will flee, but there will be no one pursuing you. It also says, ורודף אין —the enemy will be invisible.
I’ve heard President Trump call coronavirus the Invisible Enemy a hundred times. Gulp.
More hints: וכשלו איש באחיו כמפני חרב — They will stumble, each man over his brother. As if from before a sword.
Is it me or are we stumbling over the man standing next to us at CVS like he might be holding a sword?
קול עלה נידף — The rustling leaf will pursue them
Two weeks ago I got a notice in my mailbox that gardeners were shut down because the virus may be on the leaves. Double gulp.
The one word on a repeat loop from G-d in this parashah was קרי. I counted it seven times. It translates as casualness. G-d accused us of acting too casually with Him, by not trusting Him enough to keep shemittah and the rest of the Torah. Then He promises in return to rain down a חמת קרי, a fury of casualness. That’s the most terrifying oxymoron I’ve ever heard.
The last thing I want in my life is a fury of casualness from G-d. I am desperate for anything but casualness from G-d. As Eli Wiesel said, the opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.
We made a mess here. Our casual assumption that G-d’s world is not a safe one and we must control it. Our sin was one of colossal arrogance at the beginning, of trying to control something we couldn’t even see. Of playing G-d. I hope G-d will return that casualness in helping us climb out of this man-made disaster.
One of the greatest tragedies are the kids. A whole generation who are now terrified of killing their grandparents with a hug. Will they ever think the world is safe again?
What is G-d thinking when He sees how our local supermarkets have turned into Zombieville? Is he proud?
How can we reverse the sin of being too casual with G-d? Of not taking the vital task of trusting Him seriously enough? Is there a way to come back from this arrogance?
At the end of the day, we had one choice here. Be terrified of a virus we couldn’t see or trust another thing we couldn’t see, G-d. Terror or trust. That was our only choice. And I’m pretty sure we blew it.
The good news is we can reverse our bad choice. Ironically, the lifeline G-d throws us begins with the word “or.” There is a third choice here:
או אז יכנע לבבם הערל ואז ירצו את עונם — Or if they humble their circumcised heart they will gain appeasement for their sin.
If the sin came from the arrogance of not trusting G-d then reversal of the sin can be through only one thing — humility. We must peel away the outer layer of skin on our heart — our ego — and humbly confess to G-d that we did wrong here. We didn’t trust Him.
We ran around the tennis court aggressively chasing an invisible, airborne tennis ball. Trying in vain to protect other people from getting hit by the same invisible, uncontrollable tennis ball. And all the while looking like fools to the Spectators above us. I ask you, what kind of cruel coach would ever ask his players to play a game like that?
Acting like a fool is the most difficult thing to admit. You have to swallow hard. And then begin the three-step process laid out by our practical G-d to streamline forgiveness:
- Confess to G-d that you messed up
- Feel bad that you messed up
- Try to never to mess up again.
Repeat as necessary.
If you don’t humble your circumcised heart, the outcome sounds terrifying. I don’t want humanity to have to learn the lesson of humility the hard way. No one wants to see anyone eat the flesh of their sons and daughters — ואכלת בשר בניכם ובשר בנותיכם
The hope is there is a peaceful and lush reward promised to us when we choose to trust G-d. The heavenly reward sounds luscious, serene, and, best of all, secure. Who wouldn’t love a little security right about now?
Every single time we work to improve our Reaction Time of trust, we repair its torn fabric. Every time we catch ourselves in a state of fear, and choose to lay our hand on our heart, turn our chin up to G-d and say “I trust You,” that effort accumulates massive amounts of trust in the bank. Ask yourself, if I choose to trust G-d, what would my next move look like?
Imagine the myriad opportunities for trust the 6 million had. Imagine how much trust they banked from within the depths of a living hell, where the entire world made no sense and they trusted anyway. Every time they turned to Him while being dehumanized in the camps and the forests and the cattle cars, it deposited massive volumes of trust in the bank for them and also for us. We inherited a real trust fund from them. The land of Israel is the living proof. Their trust delivered to us G-d’s best promises.
One interestingly specific reward mentioned in this parashah confirms that G-d always makes good on his promises: ורדפו מכם חמישה מאה ומאה מכם רבבה — Five among you will chase away a hundred, and a hundred will chase away a thousand.
Does anyone else remember the story from the Six-Day War, how a few Gush guys in cut-off jeeps holding machine guns turned back an entire Egyptian army? I cry as I write this. Because that’s how trustworthy Hashem is. He keeps his promises.
The Jews that reclaimed Israel in 1948 did not even have enough time to keep shemittah. How did they bank the amount of trust necessary to deliver our enemies so easily into our hands? Something else handed us that victory. We were cashing in on the trust of the generation before. We owe them every beautiful flourishing thing we see in the land of Israel today. And it is our responsibility to keep that account funded.
G-d always delivers on his word. How can we help G-d continue to deliver only on the good stuff?
It is nearly impossible to react with the same instant silence and acceptance as Aaron did. Each of us can work on the fear from wherever we are at. Taking micro steps to swap out our fear for trust. This is constant work, but the payoff is nothing less than heaven descending down to earth.
It was ok to run from this virus for a week or two until we got our bearings. But if you are still hiding in your home you may need to work on your Reaction Time.
Jim Carrey once said, “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” The Jewish version of this is that sometimes fear disguises itself as hishtadlus.
I am not trying to get into the mind of G-d with all this analysis. I’m trying to get into His feelings.
I am no longer interested in conversations about symptoms, data, politics, or minyanim. I only want to talk about one thing. How badly did we insult G-d by not trusting him quickly enough? That’s the only thing I’m worried about. Recovery efforts, medically and financially, will be more effective if they are derived from inside that conversation. Plans formulated from inside trust instead of fear. The opposite of the initial plan our government implemented at the beginning of all this mess. Imagine if at the beginning CNN spoke about trust and common sense instead of death tolls and hiding.
I write this just in case this virus was some sort of dress rehearsal. I write this in the hopes of prevention and repair. If we restore the breach of trust here maybe we can collectively prevent a repeat performance.
There were many corona perks that we experienced during this time. The stillness, the time with family, the pajamas. They all had a purpose too and sparked many great conversations. This event made us take inventory of our lives in the best possible way.
I pray for one specific corona perk to endure when all this is over. Taking G-d’s feeling back into consideration. What if every conversation going forward would begin with trusting G-d. From how to reopen schools and camps, to going back to visiting our lonely parents in nursing homes. Every solution that emerges from that starting point will bring G-d out of His casual remove and restore His assistance and supervision to us. We will go from spinning our wheels to greasing them.
A G-d-fearing person who slept alone in the wilderness was asked “Aren’t you afraid of wild animals? How can you sleep out here?”
He replied, “I would be embarrassed if the Almighty were to see that I was afraid of anything else besides Him.” — Chovos Halevovos
Thank you for reading until the end. Thank you to my family, friends, staff, and patients (you know who you are) who have allowed me to endlessly and aggressively talk about G-d during this time.
Thank you to the Gordons for helping me say what I needed to say. I feel better now. May G-d help us all.