By Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski – Director of Chabad of Basel in Switzerland
We learned many lessons last year during those long months when our daughter Mussi was fighting leukemia. They were in the form of sharp-edged crash courses and, naturally, they were painful. They weren’t head-on lessons, but rather interactive ones, with very concrete, live demonstrations.
There was a course on happiness, simcha, called “How to Stay Happy Even In the Oncological Department.” There was a course on faith and trust, named “Think Good, and It Will Be Good.” There was also a crash course in marriage named “Getting through Crises Together,” and another course in family life and parenting, “My Home Is My Sanctuary – The Reality Version.”
But the most meaningful lesson of all of them was “Living with Uncertainty.”
When a person is being treated for leukemia, no one knows how his day will look. He can’t plan anything. In the morning he may feel well, and after two hours he will be ill. He can be at home in the morning and be hospitalized by evening. For how long? “We’ll see. In an hour we will check and then we’ll know.” This can go on for hours, days and weeks.
We are programmed to live according to some plan and suddenly, when one is living in such uncertainty, things become confusing and upsetting. But then you understand that that is exactly the lesson that you are supposed to learn – the crash course.
And that is when you begin to cope and accept, and also to learn. The heart practices and trains and slowly, slowly it gets used to accepting the uncertainty with a smile. Usually, this includes a look upwards.
You know what’s amazing? As the days pass and the uncertainty course is internalized, you suddenly understand that lack of certainty is not eevada’ut (uncertainty), but ee shel vada’ut – an island of certainty. The more you hand over your fate, time, money and life in general to Hashem, you acquire powerful amounts of certainty and trust, and they enter your heart and your life, and then – you live on an island of certainty.
Remember the Black Friday of September 2008? That was the day that the world entered an economic recession.
I am not a businessman, but this crisis affected me directly, as it did anyone who deals with raising funds, because the donors suffered losses and their donations showed it.
I remember talking to some friends who asked me, “Why, in your opinion, did Hashem shake the world this way?” I had no ready answer, which is good. But afterwards, when I watched videos of the moment of the crash, I saw people putting their hands on their heads and shouting “Oh my G-d!’ – and then it hit me. Perhaps the Master of the Universe just wants to hear us saying this more, and when there’s no choice he gives a gentle nudge to Wall Street and then everyone shouts in unison “Oh my G-d!”
We don’t know why and for what purpose the Master of the Universe decided to attack the world with the fear and anxiety of the Coronavirus, but it is already clear that there is one central thing that is happening to almost all of us: plans are being disrupted. And they keep changing and getting disrupted again from one moment to the next.
I don’t know how or even if we will be having a Purim party in Basel this year. Will we be able to send out Shaloch Manos? Will my children who are in Israel come home for Pesach? Will there be flights? Will my shmurah matzos arrive from Israel?
I think of those who reserved a room in a hotel in Italy for Pesach, and now they have to start cleaning and preparing for Pesach. And what about those who flew to Israel for a vacation and instead are stuck in isolation for the duration? And there are those who are due to get married soon, and they have absolutely no idea what and how, how many and why?
But maybe Hashem just wanted to give us all a crash course – sharp and painful, interactive and replete with live demonstrations called “Life on the Island of Uncertainty”? I can say only one thing, from my experience: it is worthwhile to open one’s heart and listen to this course. You might yet discover that it is not uncertainty, but an “island of certainty.”