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Posted on June 2, 2020 (5780) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Should any man’s wife go astray and deal treacherously with him… (Bamidbar 5:12)

This is where we part ways with Diaspora Jewry, for whom Shabbos will be Second-Day Shavuos, while we read Naso, b”H.

My next webinar, “Rules of Reincarnation,” is scheduled to start June 2, b”H. Write to [email protected] for details.

CORONAVIRUS HAS CAUSED many changes to occur in the Torah world. A headline last week in one of the Charedi news sites bemoaned the death of many well-known and respected rabbis in Bnei Brak alone. And though many are beginning to return to their shuls once again in Israel, it is with caution, precautions, and masks. Others still prefer the “safer” outdoor environment.

One change is certainly going to be felt this Shavuos, b”H. Normally Shavuos is a great and joyous time for everyone to crowd the Battei Midroshos all over the place for all-night learning, followed by Shacharis at sunrise. The more the merrier. The more the greater the honor of Torah.

Warnings have already gone out that people have to be vigilant this Shavuos while abiding by the rules laid out by the Ministry of Health. Enthusiasm for Torah does not take priority over the health of others, or even ourselves. The Torah we are celebrating tells us exactly that.

When it comes to Succos, the Talmud says that rain signals Divine rejection, at least in Eretz Yisroel (it’s not yet the rainy season). It compares rain in the succah to water thrown back at a servant who had brought it to his master. Likewise, if after building a succah it rains and it prevents the proper fulfillment of the mitzvah, it’s as if God has rejected our effort.

Fortunately, we can learn Torah just about anywhere, b”H, in shul, at home, or even in the streets. And even if it will necessitate extreme measures like masks and social distancing, at least people will be learning Torah and celebrating the chag. If God is rejecting our “avodah,” at least it’s only part of it.

The truth is, it’s not even the avodah that we are being denied.  We still prayed, either by ourselves on in street or garden minyanim. We found ways to continue on with Krias HaTorah away from the shuls, and many have pointed out some positive benefits of these changes as well.

The fear of death was certainly more pronounced in the beginning, aided by the media’s constant reporting of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths. For a while cities were like ghost towns, and people retreated to the safety of their homes. Judging by the lifting of restrictions and people’s quick and sometimes unwarranted return to normality, that has ended.

As for the people who died, many “unexpectedly” and within the same time period as others, it’s not so clear cut. When God doesn’t want to shake us up, He arranges for people to die in ways that do not make us wonder. If He wants us to notice, then He does it in ways that make us pay attention and think about what is happening…even though all those who died may have died at the same time anyhow. (In a week, b”H, I hope to start my next webinar on reincarnation, during which I will discuss the idea of “early” death.)

Some, maybe even many, believe that what has happened has nothing or little to do with the Jewish people, at least in any specific way. Even though the Talmud says quite clearly that all punishment comes to the world because of the Jewish people (Yevamos 63a), this pandemic happened to affect a lot of people other than the Jewish people.

You have to be careful about thinking like that. We just finished reading in Parashas Bechukosai that God only sends more troubles to the Jewish people when we downplay the specific Divine origin of the ones we already have. And a lot of them would have definitely constituted pandemics when they occurred.

On the other hand, as we learn from the redemption from Egypt and Babylonia, not everything is punishment, per se. Usually we’re not ready when redemption comes, and require a spiritual upgrade to be a part of an impending one. That was the increased slavery Pharaoh imposed upon the Jewish people before the plagues came, and the mental anguish Haman caused through his plan to exterminate the Jews.

Of course, God is capable of carrying many agendas at one time, punishing some, preparing others, or both. Sometimes He does what He does to implement changes that we should make on our own, but haven’t. Like it or not, we change because of the situation, and the only question is, will we revert back once the situation quietens down again.

There is something to be learned about all of this from this week’s parsha, especially regarding the mitzvah of the Sotah. She is the woman who causes herself to become suspected of adultery, forcing her husband to bring her up to the Temple for Divine verification. Her illicit seclusion with a forbidden man, even if nothing happened, set in motion a very long and complex process to clarify the truth.

If she is guilty, then the miraculous waters she is forced to drink will cause her a horrible death, together with the man with whom she was in seclusion, wherever he is at the time. If she is innocent, she will survive the drink and instead have children with her husband, and life will go on for them together.

The question is, why was all of this necessary for something God could have revealed without all the dramatics and erasing of the Divine Name to make the “Sotah Waters”? There were many prophets through whom God could have revealed her secret of guilt or innocent, keeping it off of the public agenda. We’re not talking Hollywood where drama is the name of the game and source of big bucks. We’re talking about God, Whose entire concern is simply the truth. Any drama HE creates is purely for us.

The main thing about the Sotah is the secrecy. The adultery is one thing. It’s the fact that something so “abnormal” is done with a desire to actually make things appear to others as if they are still normal. The inability to control oneself is suicide enough, but the fact that the adulterers deceived their families and the society of which they are supposed to be a part kills others as well. Their fatal attraction to one another attacked the very foundation of life upon which so many others have built their lives.

This makes the sin of the Sotah about much more than just the cheating man and woman. It’s a societal issue, so God has made sure that society is involved in the result and subsequent punishment. Even the woman who is proven innocent compromised herself to such an extent that doubt about her loyalty arose, and had to prove her innocence. People who care about people are careful about such things, and when we are don’t care enough, then we are ALL like the Sotah to some degree.

“And I will expose you,” God tells the perpetrators, miraculously. I will create scenarios that you cannot escape and which will show the world who you are and what you are really like, no matter what kind of face you wear in public. Your guilt will be revealed, and Emet—Truth will be served.

You know why Lavan was called “lavan—white”? So that it would become so obvious to everyone just how “black” his deeds really were. Sometimes people are called what they are called because the title fits. Sometimes they are called the complete opposite of who they really are, as a matter of Divine Providence, to make it so clear to others just how bad they are.

The coronavirus, whatever it is and wherever it came from and for whatever reason it got out, is from God. Nothing happens without His approval, though for the sake of free will, He prefers to keep His involvement somewhat mysterious. So He works through all kinds of channels, taking advantage of good and evil people alike, each to play their role in HIS plan. Someone’s belief in God, or disbelief in Him, just determines the part God gives them to play, either as a “good” guy or a “bad” guy.

But at the end of the day, at least from the perspective of the Jew, it has to all plug into the eventual redemption. Whatever we’re seeing happen today, it is all just a means to a redemption end. Drama and intrigue aside, God is moving pieces around to reveal hidden truths to help the Jewish people better assess where we are holding in this last and final exile, to know what to do as we approach the end. Additional information can be found on Twitter at @pwinston36.

The redemption begins on Pesach. It’s supposed to end on Shavuos. Maybe even this year, b”H.