And here is a link to the annual Tu B'Av post, which describes several true stories of how dancing expresses a person's true nature:
"Instead of stinging nettle, myrtle will rise" (Isaiah 55:13)
"Instead of evil, good will rise." (The Malbim's Interpretation)
Here are links to 2 articles by Rav Itamar Schwartz, describing the deeper meanings & symbolism of Tu B'Av & its historical events:
And here is a link to the annual Tu B'Av post, which describes several true stories of how dancing expresses a person's true nature:
Here's a video of a shiur from 2017 by Rabbi Yehoshua Zitron from Torahanytime.com called: Dybbuk/Exorcism/Adultery Part 1: Understanding Possessions Through Stories.
UPDATE: Here is the rest of the series: Dybbuk/Exorcism/Adultery: Part 2 - What Happens To A Spirit & Dybbuk/Exorcism/Adultery: Part 3 - The Destroyers
The first part of the shiur discusses a plague so lethal that as victims approached Rav Laniado for help, they dropped dead on the spot, and it explains how Rav Laniado remedied that.
(I couldn't catch the name of the book in which this story appeared, so if anyone figures it out, I'll be grateful if you let us know.)
Rabbi Zitron also brings fascinating stories from the Arizal & Rav Yehudah Petayah's Minchat Yehudah.
It all reinforces the importance of emunah and being real about your Yiddishkeit, kosher mezuzot, believing in the 13 Principles of Faith, and Torah learning.
And if you ever wondered why non-Jewish exorcists appear to succeed, Rabbi Zitron explains that the forces of tumah utilized in non-Jewish exorcisms damage the already damaged soul even more, so the soul flees in horror. (It's sort of like trying to clean a filthy garment by rubbing sewage into it; that only ruins the garment even more.) He also mentions exorcisms performed by priests in recent years, which resulted in the host's death (if it was even a real dybbuk-possession in the first place).
Also, Bilvavi produced a PDF collection of Rav Itamar Schwartz's insights into the month of Av, its astrological influence, its connection to Shimon ben Yaakov, and other helpful material to assist us in the avodah appropriate for this month.
Also, if you were born in Av, it can help you glean extra insights into yourself.
Here it is:
Note: The Jewish view of astrology (mazalot) is that there's an influence that can always be overridden by our prayers, deeds, and Hashem. We may not rely on the mazalot nor may we attempt to predict the future with star charts. Jewish astrology walks in temimut with Hashem. However, Hashem created the influence for a reason & we can utilize the ruach of each month for beneficial purposes.
Facing Coronavirus with Mesirut Nefesh: Channeling the Power of Death in a Holy & Positive Direction
Before this blog continues with discussions & insights into Rav Itamar Schwartz's Q&A on Coronavirus, it's important to address what people CAN do to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Otherwise, the whole thing can turn into an overwhelming fear-mongering dynamic, which is pointless. The entire purpose of fear is not crushing despair or paralyzing anxiety, but self-improvement via awareness of Hashem.)
On pages 32-34 & 44 & 103 of the Q&A, Rav Schwartz discusses the response and the "remedy" for coronavirus.
It has to do with self-nullification, which I stated before I'm not qualified to go into that. However, it's imperative to mention the basic idea of self-nullification: One should strive to internalize the fundamental idea of "Ein od milvado — There is nothing but Him."
And while in today's world of self-promotion and self-esteem, the very idea of self-nullification seems offensive or even frightening, a person who achieves true self-nullification experiences freedom & happiness on a level impossible to otherwise comprehend.
We see this among our tzaddikim who achieved this level, like Rav Aryeh Levin, a person who was wholly selfless and truly happy & content.
Self-nullification occurs when one wholly bonds to & unites with Hashem with no interference of cognitive dissonance or ego.
Self-nullification doesn't cause you to lose yourself.
On the contrary, self-nullification enables you to discover & fulfill the real you — the pristine neshamah residing within you.
Halevai I was on that level & could actually know what I'm talking about!
But that's the basic definition as written in books & exemplified by tzaddikim who reached that level.
Mesirut Nefesh: Breaking Your Middot
According to Rav Schwartz, one can fight coronavirus via mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice).
Different types & levels of mesirut nefesh exist.
One way is physical death.
But another (and more appealing) way is on the spiritual, nefesh level.
When you break your middot, you kill off your bad middot.
This is a wonderful thing!
Because we feel attached to our bad middot & taavot (desires), letting go of them causes pain.
Some people even define themselves by their bad middot or taavot.
For example, some people pride themselves on their sharp tongue (they call it "clever") or their insistence on always getting their way ("being assertive," "nobody's doormat," "never a sucker," "I don't take dirt from anyone," "nobody messes with me!").
Some pride themselves on their ability to control others, whether it's a classroom, an office, or their home.
I knew someone who prided himself on being an innate (and successful) businessman. However, he sunk to manipulative & exploitative behavior to maintain his self-image as "Benjy the Businessman!"
It took me a while to see that he wasn't a bad person, but his commitment to his self-image as "A Businessman" led him to behave with less compassion or integrity in business situations — behavior he took pride in.
Yet in other situations, he could behave with a lot of compassion and fairness.
But think of how hard it is for someone like him to relinquish his commitment to winning in business when his entire self-image depends on that.
It's a kind of death because he needs to let go of his pretend "self," which feels very real to him.
And the transition phase feels like a hermit crab switching from one shell to another: horribly vulnerable & desperate.
But completing the transition phase brings increased emotional maturity, wisdom, and satisfaction.
So it eventually feels good, but yeah, the transition phase is a wringer.
Mesirut Nefesh: Breaking Your Taavot
Breaking taavot also demands mesirut nefesh & feels like a type of death.
For people addicted to alcohol or drugs, dealing with problems by facing them head on is torture.
In fact, getting out of bed in the morning or facing the upcoming weekend with no high or drunkenness to look forward to often depresses the addict. (That's why treatment programs encourage them to take it one day at a time.)
Life initially feels blah without the hit people get from watching their favorite show/movie/podcast, smoking a cigarette, eating their comfort foods, reading their favorite non-kosher novels, social media, listening to their favorite non-kosher music, mixed dancing, unwholesome relationships, "juicy" gossip, or whatever is their taavah of choice.
So for such a person to think they'll never engage in a certain act or have that thing again...it's unbearable.
In fact, they often describe the desire for that which they deny themselves as: "It's killing me."
If it helps, the Pele Yoetz recommends relating to the pain of the unfulfilled taavah (specifically alcoholism) as a kaparah (atonement) for all the damage & transgressions caused while indulging in that taavah.
This puts a positive & beneficial spin on the pain of NOT getting what you crave.
In other words, the pain is l'to'elet; it is useful & rectifying. It has meaning & purpose.
Your Own Unique Mesirut Nefesh 2 Inches at a Time
Immediately after a shiur to a group of frum women regarding halachically appropriate shaitels, a woman approached the rebbetzin and asked her how she should change her own shaitel.
The shaitel in question comprised 100% human hair & hung down to the wearer's waist.
The rebbetzin thought for a moment, then said, "Cut off 2 inches, then get back to me in a month and tell me how it went."
The woman thanked the rebbetzin, then went on her way.
My friend, a very unmaterialistic person who lives an especially simple life in Eretz Yisrael, witnessed the exchange in astonishment.
She asked the rebbetzin why only 2 inches? To my friend, that seemed insignificant. After all, even at 2 inches shorter, the shaitel remained far from tsniyus.
But the wise rebbetzin explained that a woman willing to invest in such a shaitel obviously felt very attached to that particular shaitel.
The woman also showed tremendous sincerity in that after hearing only a little mussar on the topic, she immediately sought to improve herself in this area. And the woman's question was open-ended. Notice that she did not ask whether she should do this or that, but she simply asked what she should, making herself vulnerable to a big & possibly overwhelming change.
If you think about it, the rebbetzin showed excellent judgement.
These types of shaitels cost more than a used car.
Women who invest so much money in such a shaitel also invested their hearts in the length, style, and color.
There is a very real emotional attachment to THAT particular shaitel in all its details.
Furthermore, if the woman made a drastic change in her shaitel, her family & friends will certainly respond and usually the response won't be one of praise & encouragement, but of discouragement. (Particularly if her husband likes her in the untsniyus shaitel and especially if his ego depends on having a trophy wife — which is a VERY un-Jewish attitude in marriage — and a husband's criticism of her appearance is a bitter pill to swallow.)
For most people, it's too much to ask of them to change their identity & self-image to that point (meaning, if the woman would cut her shaitel to above her shoulders, for example) AND the discouraging responses she's likely to receive from others.
It could cause her to give up completely. (Like selling the newly vamped shaitel and buying a new one with the old waist-length again.)
In addition, a human-hair waist-length shaitel has issues other than length. These types of shaitels look way too realistic & alluring from the front too.
Yet the rebbetzin only focused on one aspect of the shaitel: its length.
And she had the woman start with just 2 inches.
So for that woman, this is big-time mesirut nefesh. Hopefully, she continued on her journey toward a more dignified & refined hair-covering.
What of the woman who already wears a shaitel that conforms to all opinions of tsniyus (of those who permit shaitels)?
If she would look at the above situation superficially, she would go out & buy a custom shaitel that comes down to 2 inches above her waist and say, "I'm being mosser nefesh too!"
But for the one already wearing a refined & dignified shaitel, buying a nearly waist-length shaitel would be a HUGE step backwards!
It's a yeridah, not mesirut nefesh at all.
So we see that these things are individual.
We cannot copy the mesirut nefesh of others.
We must find our own.
Specific Acts of Teshuvah
On pages 17-21 & 44, Rav Schwartz discusses practical suggestions for teshuvah (a form of mesirut nefesh).
Intensifying & deepening prayer is one strong recommendation.
As we've seen from Rav Avigdor Miller & others, focusing on one aspect of Shemoneh Esrei (like saying "Baruch...magen Avraham" with total kavanah and/or feeling a pang in your heart when you recite the prayer for the Beit HaMikdash) is an excellent way to start.
Bonding with Hashem even for only a few minutes every day is excellent. (Yes, 30-60 minutes is ideal, he says, but a few minutes is also very good.) Regarding time spent with Hashem: QUALITY is more important than quantity — especially now. (You can see this guidance on page 44.)
Our focus now is getting real.
Refraining from any type of lashon hara takes a lot of self-control. Depending on the situation & your own personal impulses, NOT saying something can feel almost physically painful.
And therefore, you receive FABULOUS reward for this restraint.
The only reason you restrain your mouth is for Hashem.
And that's such a beautiful thing.
Forgiving someone is also very powerful (both Rav Kanievsky & Rav Gedalyah Edelstein recommended releasing grudges in the coronavirus era).
Our reasons for holding tight to grudges & resentments can go very deep.
Working through this causes pain. (How much depends on the depth of hurt & anger & damage caused by the object of your resentment.)
Forgiveness makes you into a different person than you were before.
Forgiveness does not mean whitewashing truly bad behavior.
If someone intentionally & intensively hurt you, that is not so forgivable, practically speaking. After all, the person MEANT to hurt you and feels NO remorse. Maybe they're even happy about it.
Forgiveness in that case means connecting to the idea of emunah, that everything comes from Hashem.
That awful person was the agent for something you needed to go through for the rectification of your soul.
You don't pretend the person or the actions were okay. They weren't.
But you let go because you realize Hashem was behind the entire disaster and there is somehow in some unfathomable way a benefit.
I'm the first to admit this is much easier said than done.
But any step forward you can make in this area is a form of mesirut nefesh & very powerful.
Gratitude remains an essential component of mesirut nefesh & teshuvah.
Noting your spiritual progress & also feeling grateful for aspects of your life foster feelings of happiness & contentment.
Even if you can't manage to feel wholly happy & content, saying "thank You" to Hashem still increases happiness & contentment.
Even if you can't achieve a wholly positive state, a smidgen of positive feeling is a million times better than none.
The Specifics of Davening during the Coronavirus Era
On pages 18-19 & 84, Rav Schwartz emphasizes we must NOT daven for the world to return back to "normal."
That would be worse.
We should daven that coronavirus is uprooted BECAUSE everyone returns to Hashem and develop a warm & genuine connection with Hashem & our fellow human beings.
So we daven for a global return to Hashem & genuine connection with Him & other people.
We daven for the light of Redemption to illuminate all souls and we daven that a global healing is activated by kedushah (holiness) overcoming tumah (spiritual blockage/impurity).
Another Tip for Successful Mesirut Nefesh
Rav Avigdor Miller repeatedly stresses the importance of NOT sharing your baby-steps with others.
Unless the other person is spiritually aware, they often discourage or mock you for your efforts.
This can ruin everything.
This caution contradicts the newest generation, in which every little thing you do needs to be photographed and advertised on Instagram.
Of course, you can share your baby steps (or your grandest efforts) with another person, but only if that person will recognize your individual need for this particular type of mesirut nefesh, and will validate your efforts.
Many times, your efforts will be between you & Hashem.
And that's perfectly fine.
You're making Hashem supremely happy & that's all that matters.
Even a Tiny Drop MATTERS!
It bears repeating this idea again: One drop matters.
Drop after drop fills a lake.
Drop after drop erodes stone.
On page 32, Rav Schwartz reassures us that person can activate a little bit of mesirut nefesh by working on just one area, as long as it is an area on which one needs to work.
Mesirut nefesh is channeling the power of death in a holy direction.
Rather than destroying your body, you destroy your unhealthy ego and bad middot.
You destroy the tumah blocking you from being your best — the wonderful person you really are underneath all the spiritual blockage.
By taking only 1 thing each day — something you personally find difficult — and working on that, you achieve a form of mesirut nefesh.
That's Rav Schwartz's practical advice.
On the emotional inner level, Rav Schwartz recommends cutting oneself off from everything that's happening in the world. He encourages a feeling of separation from the entire world.
He emphasizes doing this "deeply," which I think means not only that you stop checking the news or social media, but that you make yourself realize how meaningless much of it is so that you don't even WANT to see the podcast of your favorite political commentator or check your social media account every 5 minutes.
It's important not to misunderstand this.
He means the world & all the distractions & fake news.
He does not mean to stop davening for people or to ignore pleas for verified tzedakah campaigns.
We still need to look both ways before we cross the street and cultivate warm, caring connections with others.
We should concern ourselves with the genuine emotional & material needs of those around us.
But many things portrayed as A Very Big Deal do not actually matter. It's sheker.
Summary of Main Points
Ultimately, in comes down to:
May Hashem grant us all tremendous hatzlacha & bracha in our spiritual endeavors!
A Look into 2 of the Most Puzzling Spiritual Questions of Coronavirus via the Coronavirus Q&A with Rav Itamar Schwartz
Note #1: Rav Itamar Schwartz is an Israeli rav who speaks exclusively in Hebrew. All English-language transcriptions are translations by his talmidim.
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 Bilvavi.Corona.Q.and.A.pdf, Rav Itamar Schwartz addresses why COVID-19 has hit our spiritual leaders & other very good people (i.e., respected talmidei chachamim & other people leading Torah-true lives).
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?
On page 24, Rav Schwartz addresses the question: Why America?
There are many wonderful things to say about the frum community in America.
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
And there's an aspect hinted at in this blog's previous coronavirus posts, but it certainly hovers at the back of my mind and others have also mentioned:
...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.
That potential increase in complexity and scope is hinted to in the contradictory & unclear information regarding the virus:
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:
Help a frum family get their children back!:
I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
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