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Coronavirus Is Over - Yay!

This week I Googled, “When will the coronavirus end?” and received no fewer than 5.2 billion results! My next question, “When is the coronavirus vaccine coming out?” narrowed it down to a mere 1.7 billion.  

Considering every conversation we have these days is about our fears and concerns over the great unknown… it’s hardly surprising that we’re all fruitlessly Googling the same questions. 

This week I found myself preparing our annual calendar, as I do every summer. Only this year, I don’t know where to start. When should we schedule our annual gala? Will we even be able to have a gala? What kind of Simchat Torah should we prepare for? Will we be able to have our usual High Holiday services? Which Friday nights will we be able to host community meals? What theme should our Purim party be? Each year we plan these events meticulously and mail out a schedule in September so people have ample time to prepare and save the dates. But this time, I found myself putting down, “I don’t know!” “I have no clue” and “no idea!” Question mark after question mark after question mark… 

It was one thing when the end of the year was in sight; not knowing from March till June was manageable, but now as we head into a new year, the not knowing feels insurmountable. 

One of the things we cherish most is control. Even those who aren’t usually Type A personalities are realizing just how much we are used to feeling in control. We feel at ease when we have plans. Having a vacation on the calendar makes it easier to get through the stressful winter. Knowing our job is stable, knowing which schools our kids will be attending at each stage, and what kind of party we’ll be making for their bar and bat mitzvahs in three years time gives us the sense of stability we all crave, whether we realize it or not. 

But at this point it’s been nearly four months since we had any clue what to expect, or any possibility of planning for the near or distant future, and we’re feeling the effects. 

So when will the coronavirus end? Whenever you decide! It’s that simple. You can end it right now if you want.  

You see, what we don’t realize is that we were never actually in control. Even when we feel like we are, it’s just an illusion. The only one running the world is G-d, so breathe deeply, meditate, contemplate His existence, place your trust in Him and let Him lead. You’ll be astounded by how quickly your fears and anxieties are allayed! 

I can assure you that the worldwide coronavirus will only end when the One Who is truly in control chooses, in His infinite wisdom, to end it. But we can end it right now for ourselves by placing our full trust in Him. 

This week we marked the 26th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. One of the things the Rebbe emphasized again and again, in all his talks, letters, and private audiences, is the importance of placing our trust in G-d and thinking positively. When we think optimistically, we can actually generate the positive outcome we’re hoping for. 

As I write this article, the news headlines read, “US sees single day record of coronavirus cases, suggesting the sacrifices made by millions of Americans were in vain,” “COVID-19 outbreaks are popping out across American farms,” “United States of Infected,” “World Putting America in Quarantine,” and “Houston Facing Apocalyptic July 4th.”

As Shabbat begins this evening, I look forward to turning off my phone for 25 hours and disconnecting from the onslaught of anxiety-inducing media. But we don’t have to wait for Shabbat. We can shut out the noise and the headlines every day, by placing our trust in the One Above. Let yourself have that experience, this week and beyond. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Would The Rebbe's Message To The World Be?

Dear Rebbe,

I miss you. It's been 26 long years since we last saw you, and more than ever, we need you now. We need your voice, your leadership, your far-reaching and unconditional love.

What would you say if we could hear you speak? What message would you convey to us and to the rest of the world? I try to imagine. 

You’d see the chaos and unrest on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. You’d see the boarded up stores, the angry protestors, the rioting and the looting. 

But you’d look deeper. 

You’d see the frustration and exhaustion, years in the making, that are bursting to the fore. You’d listen, really listen, and understand how fed up with the system people are. You’d gaze into the eyes of ordinary Americans and feel their immense dissatisfaction with the leadership, being locked down with no income for over three months, and you would recognize the deep and growing—seemingly unbridgeable—divide in this country. 

Dear Rebbe, I have lived with your teachings every day for the last 26 years, reading and re-reading your talks and letters, and I can picture you addressing us at a farbrengen this very Shabbos. 

While I don’t know exactly what you would say, I know you would reassure us. Your words would both calm and empower us. You would remind us that there is a Master to this Universe, Who is choreographing every move. You would emphasize the importance of good and the power of each individual to effect change. 

You would teach us to alter our perceptions and look beyond the surface. Beyond the frustration, we would see hope. Beyond the exasperation, resilience. Beyond the anger, determination to change. And beyond the hatred, we would see deep love for humankind and a desire to better the world for everyone. 

You would bring the kind of clarity we can only dream of! 

I know you’d tell us not to panic at the thought of the second wave that medical experts are predicting. You’d remind us that G-d is in charge, and you’d inspire us to place our full trust in Him. You’d encourage us to think positively, because doing so can actually change our reality. 

Dear Rebbe, I hear your voice in my head. I hear you crying at this bitter exile from which we have not yet broken free. I can hear you insisting—demanding!—that G-d send the immediate redemption. 

I can imagine your message to the world: Hang tight! We are at the very last moment of darkness; redemption is within reach, when we will understand that the chaos is just part of the Divine plan, and we will watch all the pieces fall into place.

Looking forward to reuniting with you physically real soon!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler 

Stuck Without Gas on the West Side Highway

This past Sunday I was sitting on my couch when a text flashed across my screen with a message from Rabbi Chaim Alevsky, a friend and colleague on the Upper West Side. Two teachers from Chabad of the West Side, Shternie Bulua and Dorit Gafni, were stranded on the West Side highway, their car stalled in the middle of traffic. Was anyone in the area and available to help?
 
I must say, my initial reaction was: “How does one get stuck in 2020, in NYC where there are gas stations everywhere, without gas? Can you not check your gas meter? There’s even a flashing light that warns you when you’re running low!” 
 
But within seconds I remembered that I had found myself in the exact same predicament just a few months ago: stuck without gas at Lexington and 92nd, despite the ample warning my car gave me!
 
We humans are so skilled at identifying faults in others, but more often than not, we are blind to our own. This was a powerful reminder for me to love others as we love ourselves. When I was in the same situation, I didn’t blame myself. I just filled up and went on with my day. 
 
Once that registered, I decided to jump in and see if I could help. I wasn’t in the area, but I posted on our community WhatsApp group, and within seconds my dear friend Shay Zach offered to help. He was on the Upper West Side, heading downtown, and was happy to stop and assist. I put him in touch with Rabbi Alevsky, who put him in touch with the stranded women, and sure enough, he found them, gave them a ride to the gas station, and they were on their way. 
 
I learned a couple of lessons from this story.
 
At first I wanted to ignore the message. I was happy to let someone else do the mitzvah. Helping takes time and effort and I was in my comfort zone. But that is a battle we face every moment of our lives. The good and evil inclinations are constantly at war. The evil inclination thinks only of itself; the good one wants to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult or time-consuming. 
 
A mitzvah and a sin both have an “oy!” and an “ahhh!” component; the difference is in the timing. While doing the sin, it’s so pleasurable that you feel “ahhh,” but when you realize what you’ve done, you’re hit with the “oy!” When you do a mitzvah, on the other hand, it’s hard, and you first grapple with the “oy!” But when it’s done, you can enjoy the “ahhh!”—the good feeling that comes from knowing you did the right thing. 
 
Going out of one’s way to help a stranger takes effort, but the reward is immense. Now, in my case, I hardly did a thing. It took minimal effort—just a phone call and a text. For Shay, it was about 30 minutes out of his day—a more significant contribution. And I can tell you that he definitely got a boost from the encounter. This pleasure that we experience when we help others is better than any Netflix show can make us feel … try it and see! 
 
When I talked to Shay afterwards, he told me how thankful he is for life slowing down these last few months. Pre-Corona he would have ignored the message, sure that he didn’t have time to help. But with nowhere to rush back to, he was happy to step in. “I hope to take this lesson back to my life even when things ramp up again: Slow down and help others along the way.”        
 
And when you help others, you won’t lose out, G-d promises. In this case, when Shay told the women he’s involved in packing and distributing packages to healthcare workers, they offered to come and help, so it’s a clear win-win all around. 

Miracle at the Rebbe's Ohel

Going to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens gives me a tremendous boost of energy. It enables me to really connect and focus, and before COVID-19 hit I prayed there at least twice a month. 

This week, I went again, weighed down by the overwhelming financial burden our Chabad center is facing. All our programs are on hold, and as the economy has taken a dive so has fundraising. Even for those who are still able to give, it’s very hard to solicit people when both parties are in quarantine. So much of fundraising needs to be done in person. It’s tough. 

As I prayed, I had a very large number in mind to cover immediate debt. But where could that possibly come from at a time like this?

And then—I kid you not—the phone rang. 

I had one psalm remaining and the caller ID said “restricted number.” In the era of sophisticated spam calls I rarely answer the phone unless I recognize the number, but since I was at the Ohel I took the plunge. Lo and behold, it was my friend Ilan*.

“Hi Ilan, how are you? What’s going on? It’s been a while.” 

We made small talk for a few minutes and then he got to the point. 

“It’s been a while since we connected, and I’d like to give your Chabad center some charity,” he explained. 

I’m always touched when people think of us, especially in hard times, but when I heard how much he wanted to give us, I couldn’t believe it. 

It was the exact amount I needed plus ten percent

Wow! I was blown away. This felt like a genuine miracle! 

I said, “Ilan, do you know where I am right now? I’m at the Ohel!” And he started to cry on the phone. 

I hesitated before sharing this story. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s personal. I’m exposing myself. But if it inspires one more person to go to the Ohel, to pray to G-d and connect with the Rebbe, it’s worth it, especially in these uncertain times. 

The Talmud talks about one “who believes in G-d and so he plants.” Planting will naturally yield results. The farmer’s hard labor will be rewarded when he eats the resulting fruit. So why must he believe in G-d and pray for success? The Talmud explains that all our financial worries and successes come from G-d, even when the delivery appears natural. 

Yes, we are living in treacherous and uncertain times. We’ve been in isolation for almost three months, hundreds of thousands have been sick, and now we’re seeing civil unrest on an unprecedented scale. The entire world seems to be in turmoil. But as our forefather Abraham discovered, there is a Master of this universe and He is in charge. It’s His job to sustain us and bring us to better times. We need to strike a balance between surrendering to Him and creating natural pathways for His blessings. 

I am so grateful to my friend Ilan for his incredible generosity, and to G-d for sending the blessings through him. But I cannot relax yet. This check only takes care of the immediate issues; I will be back at the Ohel next week with a lot more on my mind. Will you join me? 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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