They do an outstanding job, especially considering the depth & nuance of the material. Nonetheless, exact translations are difficult to achieve, especially from Hebrew to English and especially regarding such deep concepts.
Note #2: Rav Schwartz goes very deep & as a result, anything I discuss here is just the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, I'm not on the level to discuss his most important ideas, like self-nullification, which he emphasizes as the most significant response we could have to coronavirus.
In other words, it's vital to read the whole PDF because if you just rely on my discussion of it, you'll miss the essentials.
Why are So Many GOOD People Dying — and Davka in America? And What Does that Mean for Us?
In particular, we see this happening in America more than anywhere else.
Judaism describes the concept of Hashem taking a very good person as a kaparah for the Nation, rather than killing off, say, 1000s of people, chas v'shalom.
And that explains part of it.
But Rav Schwartz delves even deeper into what lies behind the spate of deaths from coronavirus among our spiritual leaders.
It's rattling, yet hopefully also a spur for positive change.
Why Did COVID-19 Hit Davka America So Hard?
There are many wonderful things to say about the frum community in America.
- Chessed, bikur cholim, & tzedakah occur with great generosity, regularity, and attention to detail.
- The beloved & heroic Hatzolah emergency medical service is an American innovation.
- There are frum American Jews who, despite all the temptations of the outside world, invest so much in keeping their Yiddishkeit alive & intact.
- The frum American community fosters many activists who work on behalf of anything troubling Am Yisrael, whether it's shidduchim, abuse, addictions, mental health issues, physical health issues, errant youth, shalom bayis, schools and much more.
However, a vapor of materialism has also infiltrated the community, and affects the community in ways that seem bizarre if you're looking at it from the outside.
Americans who got used to & even enjoy the simpler life in Eretz Yisrael describe a type of culture shock when they return to North America for a visit, expected to adhere to the material dictates inherent to some (though not all) communities there — dictates that honestly do not matter one bit & even cause unnecessary stress & inconvenience.
I don't want to give specific examples, but if you know, then you know. And if you can do something about it (at least within yourself), then you can.
Not everyone is materialistic; as stated above, much good exists.
But according to Rav Schwartz, that infiltration of materialism is a major reason the virus hit America so hard.
Needless to say, secularism & materialism infiltrate Jewish communities around the world (including in Eretz Yisrael). But you see the impact of secularism & materialism in the USA more than anywhere else, so the virus hit there the hardest.
For now, anyway.
The Elephant in the Room
...a feeling of something "waiting in the wings."
I don't know what you're sensing, but to me, there's a powerful sense that Hashem is holding back — yishtabach Shemo, Av HaRachaman.
Because of that, we're not really seeing the whole picture.
It's blurred because in His Great Mercy, Hashem is not unleashing the full force of it upon us.
Yet on page 26, in answer to the question of why Eretz Yisrael is seeing a much lower rate of complications & death, Rav Schwartz states:
You are only viewing the situation at the moment.
The situation is able to become more encompassing and more complex.
- How far can the virus REALLY travel after being emitted?
- How long does it REALLY stay in the air?
- How accurate are the tests REALLY?
- How infectious is it really? (I personally know people who spent hours in the airspace of, including physically touching, people unknowingly infected with coronavirus...and when tested, these intensely exposed people experienced no symptoms & tested negative for COVID-19. 3 of them had spent a lot of time in the sun, a source of vitamin D, and in addition, one had been supplementing with vitamin D.)
- Can COVID-19 really be transmitted via the eyes?
- Is treating the virus at a hospital more or less dangerous than treating it at home?
- What are the long-term effects, including of those who tested positive but remained asymptomatic?
- Is it really better to allow people to die of loneliness & neglect than risk infecting low-risk family members & staff?
- For those who focus on the purely medical aspect, why are so many people ignoring the 3 studies indicating that vitamin D plays a huge part in coronavirus immunity? And that vitamin K2 not only helps vitamin D absorption, but also prevents clotting (which is how coronavirus has killed many people)?
- And the really big question: Can you get COVID-19 AGAIN after the initial infection & recovery?
Whether you have people putting their faith in masks & 6-foot social distancing or claiming that the whole thing is a hoax, there is a tremendous amount that we really don't know.
While the media-induced hysteria looks over-the-top when compared to the actual number of deaths & complications (MUCH less than epidemics like Ebola, Spanish flu, and so on, though a little more than flu deaths & complications, depending on the area), it could derive from this sense that there could be more to the virus, God forbid, then what we see now.
And maybe that's scarier than believing it is controllable via all sorts of questionable precautions or believing that it is a hoax or the flu.
A Glimpse behind the Curtain of Our Upside-Down World:
Why Davka the Tzaddikim?
Yet on page 27, we see the question secretly plaguing many of us:
If an Internet connection (especially an impure connection using impure devices) is the spiritual reason behind the pandemic, then why are davka the people WITHOUT such devices dying?
The people who DON'T hold grudges, DON'T speak lashon hara, and DO daven copiously with kavanah and DO learn Torah with dedication — why did coronavirus hit davka those people with such high fatalities?
Rav Schwartz explains that, in part, their illness & deaths resulted from their heightened spiritual sensitivity.
The Wi-Fi connection comprises both a spiritual & physical component.
Physically, the Wi-Fi penetrates every home and space, even if you don't have Wi-Fi devices in your home.
Sure, if you live in a concrete box with no windows, then that weakens Wi-Fi penetration, but even concrete walls don't block it completely.
As a side point, I think we've all known families who own no devices: not even an old computer for word processing with no Internet whatsoever — not even email.
And they either didn't have cell phones or they had the totally kosher kind with absolutely no Internet connection, not even texting.
Yet their wayward children brought such devices into the home.
Because Wi-Fi penetrates everywhere, you can bring a totally tumah device into a totally Internet-free & device-free home, and use that tumah device in that home.
Surrounded by Wi-Fi, it passes through your home, while outside, it also touches you — even if you yourself never own or even touch a Wi-Fi connection or device.
Spiritually, it penetrates every home & space.
What's the Real Poison Infesting the Wi-Fi?
For us, the connection is both instantaneous & imperceptible.
We see the result, not the process.
But it travels.
For example, to read lashon hara or fake news written in San Francisco, that lashon hara must travel electronically through the air, including space inhabited by holy people.
To look at unwholesome images & watch stupid movies, this garbage must travel through other homes and people in order to arrive to your device.
So all this lashon hara, filth, and frivolousness penetrates the homes & beitei midrash of these holy people.
And because they are so clean & pure, the tumah affects them more.
It's sort of like a population never exposed to certain diseases, so they lack immunity to those diseases.
Yet when suddenly exposed to those diseases, infection & death runs rampant in this formerly healthy population.
Likewise, on a spiritual level.
As Rav Schwartz explains:
We need to understand that our very existence as we live in this generation is infected by the harmful spiritual effects that this invisible radiation [Wi-Fi] has on us, because we are all living within the invisible field of this tumah that fills every space.
Therefore, there is no one who can be saved from it totally, and therefore it is able to harm anyone, whether they are tzaddikim or whether they are not tzaddikim.
That is why the souls of tzaddikim are broken and gasping from this tumah.
(Meaning, if you focus on the Wi-Fi alone, that's a mistake; it's not the whole reason.)
On page 29, Rav Schwartz recommends reading the Ramchal's Sefer Daat Tevunot to better understand the spiritual dynamic & how to respond.
Intellectually, we know that when we sin, it harms ourselves (even if we don't immediately perceive it) and it collectively harms our Nation (by adding more sins to the National scales, weighing down on the side of Heavenly Judgement rather than Heavenly Compassion).
But did we know that when we invite a non-Torah wave to our device, it passes through the space of very good & spiritually sensitive people, harming them directly?
Those Wi-Fi waves infested with lashon hara, kefirah, time-wasting, and pritzut infiltrate the personal space of these holy people.
I never considered that.
How Quarantines Increase Spiritual Contamination
Yes, it LOOKS like all the post-quarantine renewed interaction spreads the virus, but people are tested less in quarantine (because they're not going out for tests).
Once people get out more, they also get tested more.
And this means more positives (if the tests are genuinely accurate, of course).
Though some people utilize the lockdowns to improve themselves spiritually, many turn to their Internet devices to relieve boredom & distract themselves from anxiety.
In other words, a person who might normally walk or drive to work (which prevents him from surfing) and then sits at a cash register or goes around fixing electrical issues in homes, or teaches a class (where he also cannot connect to fake news or videos of the best football moments of 2020)...this person in quarantine now spends all that time on the Internet, which increases the spiritually harmful Wi-Fi traffic.
And wouldn't it be nice if we were all only learning Toras Avigdor or Torah Anytime or Bilvavi via these devices during the quarantines...
But many people waste time (or worse) on their devices.
This means that MORE foolishness, MORE pritzut, MORE lashon hara, etc., are traveling via Wi-Fi through homes during a lockdown.
In other words, quarantine increases spiritual contamination via Wi-Fi even as it lessens spiritual contamination in other venues (because people cannot go to bars, discotheques, football games, and movies).
Touching on the Most Effective Responses to Coronavirus
Rav Schwartz mentions several responses, all interconnected:
- Mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice)
- Focus on holy individuality
- Develop "warm" relationships as opposed to "cold" relationships
This is all in addition to increasing prayer, Torah study, tzedakah, and chessed.
I'll be discussing the above (except self-nullification) in future posts, but please remember that Rav Schwartz emphasizes progressing according to your own level.
But just to touch on some of the solutions:
Regarding mesirut nefesh: What's mesirut nefesh for you might not be mesirut nefesh for someone else.
Think about wherever you're holding. Rav Schwartz recommends to start by taking one thing you find difficult & overcome it.
Even just a small amount of mesirut nefesh regarding one thing makes a huge difference.
One aspect of holy individuality means to focus on learning those parts of Torah closest to your heart. What are you really attracted to learning?
If you're a man, it doesn't mean to give up your learning schedule or yeshivah studies completely, but if you've always felt a hankering to delve into Sefer Yeshayahu or Orchot Tzaddikim or Chessed L'Avraham, then now's the time.
As Rav Schwartz advises on page 52 (with a special emphasis on learning in quarantine):
How to actually balance your learning schedule is a matter that differs with each person.
The inner way to go about this period is to receive vitality both from learning in-depth Gemara as well as from learning sefarim you enjoy, in a way that is pleasant and calming, as much as you can.
And future posts will discuss other aspects of the PDF.
In His Great Compassion, may Hashem please bring the Geula sweetly & swiftly.