By Baruch Davis
A few short weeks ago (which has felt like forever), we were experiencing what we perceived as normal life. We were chilling, celebrating with our friends, family and community on Purim, enjoying restaurants and going to stores totally carefree.
In a short period of time, everything changed. In the blink of an eye, it felt like life as we knew it was disappearing and replaced with a new alternate reality. It feels like a scene from a bad sci-fi movie. Every day, the news was getting worse. And worse. And worse.
And yet, even when we felt it couldn’t get worse, the names to pray for started rolling in. In a matter of days that list now seems endless. People are dying (G-d forbid). Many people are losing their jobs. The economy tanked. Children cannot go to school. And we are all united in our fear of what tomorrow may bring. It is easy to feel helpless.
The question we all have is: What can we do? How can we stop the tide of bad news? We feel we are small and cannot do anything. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by our fear and feel helpless. But don’t worry, there is always something we can do.
Firstly, we must turn to G-d and pray. Always. Not just in times of distress and misfortunate. But now more than ever, we must focus our efforts. Open up a siddur, a prayer book, and take comfort in the words written by our sages around 2,000 years ago.
Here’s the amazing thing: These very same words have been recited by Jews in every generation and situation: pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and so many other calamities. These words have been an inspiration to our ancestors and have helped them survive and get through many other difficult times.
Although it’s hard to understand, no prayers are wasted. G-d hears them all, and answers — sometimes in ways we cannot understand. We must always have faith and trust in G-d, and that salvation will come. This fundamental belief has kept us alive for 3,000 years against incredible hardships.
We learn about prayer during challenging times from a great woman in the Bible named Chana. Chana was sad that she was not able to have children, so she cried her heart out and was literally falling over from emotion when she beseeched her Father in heaven. She was so emotional that the rabbis at the time actually thought she was drunk. Her style of prayer so was moving that a lot of the laws of prayer come from her behavior.
G-d heard her prayers and blessed her with a special son named Shmuel (Samuel) who later became a great prophet. She was sad for many years, but eventually all of those tears helped bring her to the great miracle of motherhood.
Having faith can sometimes be a challenge, especially during tough times. However, the goal is that we can take comfort knowing G-d runs the world, and has a plan for all of us.
For example, let’s say you are sitting on a bus and are confused because the driver is slowing and stopping, going in unfamiliar ways. Or we can be calm and enjoy the ride, knowing the driver knows more than us about directions and might be taking a circuitous route for a reason (to avoid traffic). But in the end, you get there, even though there was some confusion. So, too, with our lives and G-d.
Clearly we are in a bumpy direction, totally unanticipated, and we might not understand what is going on. However, we have to know we are eventually headed in the right direction, even if we don’t see it along the way, just like the bus. Let’s choose to be calm knowing G-d knows everything, including how to drive this crazy bus ride we feel we are on.
Secondly, we have to ask how G-d wants us to behave in the face of tragedy and uncertainty. Right now, understandably people are worried about their futures, especially financially. There is a tendency to want to be selfish — just look at how much toilet paper and eggs people feel they will need.
However, the opposite is true. When you give, you actually get because you are being true to your higher self. No one gets poor by giving too much away. The Torah mandates that we donate 10% of our earnings to those less fortunate than us. That’s not just when we feel secure about our future, but all the time. There are many examples of tzedekah and charity throughout the Torah.
One example is called schmeita. There is a Jewish law that every seven years, all Jewish farmers must stop working the fields. Instead, they learn Torah, and all of the food that harvests that year is free for poor people to take. How can the farmers possibly relax in that year? Aren’t they worried for their future? No, because the sages tell us that in the eighth year, they will get double if they observed schmeita and were charitable.
So, too, in these scary times, we must continue to be generous and trust that by taking care of others, G-d will take care of us. There is almost always someone who needs our help. Right now, a lot of people need our help. If we are fortunate as to still have jobs and enough money to buy food, we should continue reaching out to our brothers and sisters who do not.
Sometimes charity does not need to be financial. We can help others with our words and care. Call up seniors and ask how they are doing. Check on our friends and show an interest in them. There are countless ways we can be helpful, even when we would prefer to be selfish. When we give, not only do we help others, but we also get, as we help ourselves by being givers.
In summary, the two Jewish approaches to this terrible tragedy are to pray and do acts of kindness. We may feel like doing the opposite. We have a long legacy of being part of an incredible nation that has always excelled in these two areas. In this way, we will continue to be a light onto the nations and a holy people.
Baruch Davis is a 10th grader at Ner Yisrael Mechina High School and graduate of Politz Hebrew Academy.