We have been under the siege of Covid 19 for a period of time which caused everyone’s lifestyles to be altered dramatically. If we merited having in our midst the Neveeim like in the past, they for sure would have revealed to us what exactly does Hashem require from us to do now. Today, any interpretations to the reason of our devastating calamity can only be a guess and therefore it will always remain an uncertainty. Yet when it comes to Pikuach Nefesh the Halachah dictates that even with a safek one must be machmir and strict. So even if the cause of this present tzarah cannot be defined with a clarity of purpose besides the general theme of teshuvah to Hashem, that is sufficient for each individual to work on himself to attain that goal. By doing so he will demonstrate to Hashem that his desire is to become closer to Him and fulfill His ratzon which will create a closer beneficial bond with Hashem, irrelevant whether or not the crisis will depart from our midst because of our spiritual achievements.
I humbly would like to suggest a general shortcoming that everyone can improve in which would make our relationship with Hashem closer and more meaningful. It is based on the passuk ה’ בדד ינחנו ואין עמו אל נכר (Devarim 32,12). Hashem alone guided them and no other power was with them. The Ramban explains this to mean that Hashem did not place Am Yisrael under the stewardship of angels as the other nations but has placed them under His providence alone. However, we suggest a novel interpretation relevant to our pandemic plague. That Hashem will place man בדד in isolation and in solitude which will cause him not to relate to Hashem as a strange G-d.
The passuk means the following. When an individual loses focus on his primary goal of coming close to Hashem, and he falls under the influence of the material and physical world cravings, it will be at the expense of estranging himself from Hashem slowly but surely. Exposing oneself to heightened experiences of instant physical pleasures might make one erroneously believe that they satisfy him more intensely than spiritual experiences. Part of this phenomenon is because physical pleasures are tangible with bodily reactions such as one’s heartbeat increasing and the release of dopamine in the brain. One immediately feels the difference from before the pleasure and during the pleasure, which is an experience much more difficult to attain in the realm of spirituality. However, this does not make physical pleasures automatically more fulfilling especially since they possess the nature of being very fleeting. If one toils in mitzvah performance, or overcomes his yetzer harah, the satisfaction and well being derived from them are sustainable and much deeper. Ruchniyus experiences give one a divine feeling and a connection to a life force and energy beyond oneself, which in contrast to physical pleasures that are limited, since they can only arouse pleasurable feelings within the body.
Unfortunately, when one indulges in earthly arousals, his commitment to Torah observance will begin to weaken and he soon finds himself with new difficult tests of allegiance to even his regular daily mitzvos, something that he never felt before. He soon becomes dependent on the physical gratifications and the pseudo freedoms that he imagines he gained, and it becomes a daily struggle driven by guilt alone to force himself to fulfill, or appear to fulfill, the mitzvahs. His head and heart belong now to his body and not to his neshama which has unfortunately become a stranger in his daily life.
This degenerative process of becoming estranged from Hashem is mentioned in our Parsha (18,2). Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled and do not perform the practice of the land of Cannaan to which I bring you and do not follow their traditions. It is easy to justify sin on the grounds that everyone in the environment is doing it. The Canaanites were the most abominable of all the nations. One can erroneously rationalize that as long as I don’t perform the obscene and vulgar acts of this nation, then the innocent lifestyle and traditions are ok. Therefore the Torah points out and warns us that even the customs and the “chill” of this nation must be abhorred and avoided. Sinning is a progressive process and the “not so bad” conduct will inevitably lead to their most horrendous acts of decadence.
This is how one deteriorates to a state of אל נכר that Hashem has become estranged to you. The gematriah of אל נכר is אש fire. For most people in our generation, it is the earthly gratifications that get one excited and the body heated up by pleasurable experiences. Only tzadikkim can say that they too experience the same lehavdil, when it comes to performing mitzvos and they are engulfed in a holy fire. Fires that are derived from physical objects possess the character of a physical fire that consumes and destroys the very person who let it be created within himself. In contrast, the fires that are derived from the neshama and the mitzvos כי נר מצוה ותורה אור possess the character of a heavenly fire like the one found in the episode of Moshe and the Burning Bush which doesn’t consume but rather allows one to hear the words of Hashem speaking and emanating from it.
Hashem, when He feels that His nation is estranged from Him and His Torah, reacts with an intervention that He hopes will set them straight back on the correct path and relationship with Him. With His grand kindness, He doesn’t want to wait to the last second as He did in the geulah from Mitzrayim before Am Yisrael sank into the 50th level of tumah. Rather, He wants Am Yisrael to come to the realization on their own that they have drifted away from the core of their being, the Torah. They should come to understand אותי עזבו מקור מים חיים לחצוב להם בארת בארת נשברים אשר לא יכלו מים They left Me the source of living water to dig wells and wells that are broken and cannot retain any water (Yirmiyah 2,13). The waters of material pleasures for the moment tease you and give fantasy satiation but after the experience, it disappears as quickly as it came. This is in contrast to an experience of the neshama, where the good feeling achieved lasts all the way to Olam Habah and doesn’t just die in the grave.
In order for Hashem to turn His people around to pay more attention to Him and not be distracted by all the decoys in the world, He has to remove them by quarantining everybody into solitude and coerced distancing from all these distractions that hijack one from his neshama. As one steps back from the offerings and lures of the רשות הרבים, the restaurants, the stadiums, the hangouts, Broadway, the malls, the mega lavish simchas, the exotic vacations, one’s business, he begins to feel the freedom from his unconscious addictions which he believed that from them it was impossible to part, but now he realizes that his life goes on without them. He begins now to appreciate his family even more, and the children he brought into the world who will continue his legacy after he passes on. By being home he begins to cherish his wife even more, realizing how much of a wonder woman she really is with the time and efforts she invests in one day to take care of the house, clean, to do the laundry, make the meals, and to play all the roles of being a mother, referee, caretaker, sympathizer to the constant whining and complaining of the children, all at the same time. And most importantly one realizes how much he is missing from an intimate relationship with His creator that is always available and waiting for him to just let Him in. סור מרע ועשה טוב when the distractions and sizzling lures are unattainable and out of reach, then the עשה טוב of connecting to Hashem is facilitated and now even yearned for.
ה’ בדד ינחנו Hashem places man in seclusion away from the social gatherings and the noise of the רשות הרבים. As Dovid Hamelech says (Tehillim 40,3) ויעלני מבור שאון מטיט היון ויקם על סלע רגלי כונן אשרי. The Malbim explains Hashem took me out from the noisy turbulent waters of the pit, You extricated me from the muddy bottoms which when stuck in its mud it’s almost impossible to get out, and You placed me on a rock where my enemies cannot get to me, and my footing now becomes solid.
Hashem, by bringing to the world the Corona Lockdown, has saved all of us from the loud blasting noise of the רשות הרבים and its public gatherings, the media and its pounding, penetrating, engaging, mesmerizing, distorted messages of illusions concerning the physical pleasures of this world. I agree that with all the children in your house it might be quite noisy also, however it’s a different quality of noise. A noise from the reshus harabim annoys your neshama not your body. But a noise from your dear family annoys only your body, not the neshama. In this state of isolation where we are basically freed from all the wrong noise, we get to know and familiarize ourselves with Hashem intimately once again and clearly see the difference between a spiritual pleasure and a physical one from which we became free. Being bombarded with lusts from the outside doesn’t give a chance for the neshama to show its true self because we are always comparing it to the physical enjoyments that are constantly at our reach. However, now that they are not available, one can cultivate a deeper satisfying fulfilling pleasure of connecting with the infinite Hashem the life energy and force of the universe and receive its everlasting gratification after our rendezvous with Him.
ואין עמו אל נכר The letters of נכר estranged can be read as כרנ the English equivalent of Corona. Hashem is allowing us to once again reignite our passion for our beloved, to begin to cherish our relationship with Hashem and to remove our estrangement from Him which we allowed to set in over time. The doctors are telling us about social distancing and for sure not to embrace a stranger. Well, Hashem is an exception to this rule at this time. Let us once again start embracing Hashem because in truth as long as we carry our neshama inside, He never was a real stranger to us. Let us once again feel His loving embrace and with joy receive His warm greetings of Welcome Home Son.