by Rabbi Israel Rubin
Mendel’s father (Rabbi Yisroel Rubin) shared this simple but marvelous comparison insight as a preparation for the Shabbat before Passover 2020 during Coronavirus. Obviously some of us are facing very real medical or other very challenging issues.. But for many of us, perspective alone can be a helpful game-changer, even if we shift our perspective just a little bit.
ALONE? LONELY? IT ALL DEPENDS!
Rabbi Rubin’s Coronavirus pre-Shabbos HaGadol Drasha contrasts and compares two surprisingly similar, yet contradictory verses, both in the same Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) Chapter 3 about a person who studies alone by himself:
מנין שאפילו אחד שיושב…שנאמר ישב בדד וידום
Avot 3:2: “How do we know that even one person who studies (alone) gets reward? From the verse (in Eicha – Lamentations 3:28) ‘He sits alone in stillness.’”
בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי אבוא אליך וברכתיך
Avot 3:6: “Rabbi Chalafta…says: How do we know that even one who studies (alone) merits the Divine Presence? From the verse (in Parsha Yitro at the Giving of the Torah, where G-d promises): ‘Any place where you will mention My name, I will come to you and bless you.’”
Both Mishnayos promote lonely learning, but what a glaring contrast between the two quotes! Mishna 3:2 quotes sad Lamentations of Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, while Mishna 3:6 learns the same message from Sinai’s Parsha Yitro – think Simchat Torah! One describes a scenario sitting quietly in stillness, compensated with reward but without the Divine Presence, while the other has Divine Presence, G-d Coming to visit and bless us wherever we may be!
The different authorship of these Mishnas can resolve this contradiction: R. Chanina Ben Tradyon, of the Ten Martyrs experienced Torah under forbidding circumstances of tragic forbidding Roman decree. Let’s also remember that this Rabbi was the one arrested and killed by the Romans for “gathering crowds publicly for Torah study.”
But R. Chalafta in Mishna 3:6 from the small village understood and appreciates the value of even one person, all alone, as a great blessing and gift.
Our perspective can make all the difference! This is an important to realize as we approach a unique Pesach quarantine situation, observing the Seder by ourself, or with fewer people than in past years.
Indeed, the modern Hebrew word for quarantine “Bidud” comes from biblical “Badad” (alone) most famous from the opening of Lamentations איכה ישבה בדד but it is also Moses’ final blessing to Israel in Vzos Habracha וישב ישראל בטח בדד in a positive sense about Israel’s strong confidence, independence and security. It all depends on our own personal attitude, how we reflect on the situation and oour perosisting observance. how we fuse the loneliness with personal Simcha and confidence, knowing that we are not truly alone for G-d is at our side. Surely, we look forward to be together again soon, but let us cherish the blessings & opportunities we have.