The questions that can’t be answered are much more numerous than the ones that can. The news reports are endless, flooding you with a river of facts and semi-facts. How many people were stricken? How many are under quarantine. How many fatalities. The answers change by the hour. The scope of the pandemic has never been equaled. There is nothing to which it can be objectively compared. The endless hype is only a symptom of an underlying issue.
We hate saying that we have no control.
Being able to talk about the stats, symptoms and numbers brings things down to the great world of The Describable. That world is one in which we are very comfortable. The only problem is that control is an illusion, and that knowledge is only what your senses can pick up and transfer to your brain.
Rambam illustrates the reality of human limitation in his usual succinct way. “If you saw a bird, and also saw an iron bar, you can imagine an iron bird that flies in the sky”. He lived about a thousand years ago, but he already could envision a plane. However, “If you never saw a bird, and never saw metal, you would not be able to “see” a flying metal bird”.
Human wisdom is compared to a ladder. You can walk up many rungs, but you can get stuck. The top of the ladder is where Hashem’s grandeur replaces the world that your senses project. To reach the top, you have to be humble. When you can step back you can finally get a more honest perspective as you put Hashem back in the picture. It means reaching a point in which your heart and mind agree, and they both find themselves saying,” I see what I see, but the entire picture belongs to You”.
Rambam also tells you that for Moshiach to come, one thing has to happen. You have to be educable. That doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, Hashem’s commitment to His people doesn’t make perfection a pre requisite to becoming ourselves, which is what redemption really means. It means that you have to be humble enough to say “I don’t know”, and recognize that there is no one upon whom you can depend other than Hashem.
I am sure that in your life there have been times in which the rug was pulled out from under you. The flight was cancelled. The position was filled. He didn’t like you enough to marry you. The diagnosis was much less severe than what the illness actually was. These moments can be transformational.
In last week’s parshah you have Moshe making an interesting request. He asked Hashem to show him His glory. This may leave you wondering, didn’t Moshe read the beginning of this letter? Didn’t he know that humans don’t see the whole picture? He obviously did. He didn’t ask Hashem to see Him, He wanted to find Hashem’s glory.
So many things happen in the world that conceal Hashem’s glory. The hardest one to swallow is that the good people suffer at times, while at times the really bad ones seem to have easy pain free lives. The way this is put in the classical sources is “the problem of a tzadik who has evil and an evil man (rasha) who has good”.
You can look at these words from an entirely different angle. Even the worst of us has some good. It may be buried under untold layers of selfishness, despair and fear. If you go to the trouble of seeking out this bit of good you can make a dramatic change. If you relate to it as the key to the deeper and more genuine piece of G-dliness in a person who has lived a bad life, you can change his way of relating to himself. His entire identity can be altered. For this reason, Hashem, who is the only one who knows anyone’s inner workings, will sometimes let the rasha see undisguised good, and let him find the place of peace, gratitude, and wonder that can change him if he is willing to be changed. Sometimes the opposite takes place, and with this, I will get personal.
You are good. So many of you are real Tzadikim. Knowing you has been one of the best things that ever happened to me. But you are tzadik v’ ra lo. A tzadik with some bad still hidden inside. You ask Rabbanim (and very rightly so!), “What is this for? What does Hashem want of us?” or “What should I change?”. The underlying whisper is, “I look at myself and see a clean slate. I don’t see anything that needs correction. What is there for me to do differently?”. Sometimes, Hashem in His kindness will present you with situations that can bring out the hidden tzadik in you. The tzadik that can only surface when things don’t go as you would have chosen. When the stress that this terrible plague brings everyone, hits home, the tzadik in you can come out. It can take you to recognizing that other people need your validation, that you need to express your care, that your prayers can come to express a deeper level of trust in Hashem than you ever believed that you had inside you.
So, I’ll end with a rather strange wish, which is that the plague be forgotten, that it be a rung that takes us closer to Moshiach (which feels so plausible given that everything else seem so surreal), and that its impression takes us to being more than we ever thought we could be.