April 18, 2020
A slightly shortened version of this article appears on page 8 of this week's Jewish Press.
God's Bi'ur Chametz
Many people are sensing the impending coming of Moshiach, even people who didn't formerly give much thought to such transcendent matters. These are special times, unique times, and we can feel it. We can't prove it to those who must inevitably play the role of skeptic, but we don't have to. This essay is not for them. It is for those of us who feel it.
The latest dramatic development was the military lockdown of Bnei Brak due to the uncontrolled outbreak of corona virus in this religious enclave. Much has already been written regarding who is to blame for this, failures among the religious leadership, and flaws in the social and cultural norms. Those with an axe to grind against this demographic have pounced on this opportunity to bash these Jews, criminalize them, and demonize them while their blood is still flowing. I have been very outspoken against this behavior on social media. Tomorrow, when the virus is behind us, we will be able to sort through all the lessons that need to be learned and implement changes. Today we need to send love and support for a community that is reeling.
I have also urged those demonizing and criminalizing those who "got the memo" later than them to consider how long THEY were acting cavalierly after they should have known better. Most people were trivializing the virus as "just a flu" and the health precautions as "overreacting" until very recently, even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary readily available for those who cared to be informed. The virus was not imported to Israel by residents of Bnei Brak, and plenty of people who look nothing like them behaved irresponsibly before it reached there.
Be honest: how many people could YOU have realistically infected if you were just a little less fortunate?
I'm not condoning irresponsible behavior by anyone, especially at this late date, just urging a little more intellectual honesty and humility before condemning others. I write all this as someone who disagrees with the Bnei Brak mentality on many issues. Now is simply not the time to make self-righteous remarks, and no good will come of them.
While others are focusing on the developments from a mundane perspective, those of us who recognize that this is all part of the Messianic process must reflect on what's really going on. It is not just desserts for the so-called "Ultra-Orthodox" for shunning world news, scientific knowledge, and the Internet. It is also not the pretext the heretics have been waiting for to take over their neighborhoods and show them who is boss.
It is a golden opportunity to heal one of the greatest rifts within the Jewish people.
For the first time in memory, police and soldiers in large numbers – most of them not religious – are being forced to come into contact with the most insular of Jews. Until now, virtually the only contact they had on the public level came through tensions and conflict, as adversaries. The relationship between these two camps was filled with distrust and hatred, not all of it unjustified. They both wanted as little to do with each other as possible.
Now they have more to do with each other than ever before. Residents of Bnei Brak who only knew soldiers as oppressors and heretics will now have the opportunity to see them in a different light. The soldiers are engaged in a complex operation to keep them safe and provide for their unique needs, and it seems they are trying to do so with respect and sensitivity.
At the same time, the soldiers are now interacting with real human beings. Not a sea of black, but people, individuals, families, at home and most vulnerable.
This is a golden opportunity for the residents of Bnei Brak to see that the secular soldiers are not Nazis, not oppressors, not tyrants looking to destroy their way of life. They are Jews, for the most part good people, and they play for the same team.
It is also a golden opportunity for the secular soldiers to see that the residents of Bnei Brak are not parasites, not criminals, not terrorists. They are Jews, for the most part good people, and they play for the same team.
Maybe, just maybe, this will lead to some sort of reconciliation between these distant camps of Jews. Maybe the children of Bnei Brak will learn that the soldiers are not their enemies...maybe they will tell Abba and Ima that they want to be a soldier someday who rescues people also...maybe Abba and Ima will smile and encourage them.
Maybe the secular Jews will see these wholesome families filled with simple, pure values and spiritual strength to meet any challenge, and will come away impressed. Maybe they will go home and tell their wives and girlfriends that maybe the Torah isn't a primitive, frightening way of life after all...maybe they will want their children to be exposed to these values...maybe they will incorporate more Torah into their homes and lives without becoming "extremists".
The primary impediment to the final redemption, and the main cause of all our problems, has always been discord and hatred. When the Jews are united, no harm can befall us. For Moshiach to come, we need to achieve unity. Moshiach is coming. We haven't been able to achieve unity until now, so Hashem is giving us a push, forcing us in that direction. Yechezkel prophesied thousands of years ago that Hashem would reunite the separated factions. It's painful, but necessary. It must happen.
If the crisis in Bnei Brak and other such neighborhoods leads to greater unity between the most diametrically opposed of Jews, then all those who suffered and lost their lives will not have done so in vain. Let it be. Amen.