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Parashat Shemini
by Rabbi Yosef Farhi

We all like Seder, order. But life is not Seder. It never was and never will be. When life has no Seder, we are forced to think hard and make an internal Seder. I.e., we are forced to answer the hardest questions in life. “What is important?” “What is more important?” “What are my long- term, 5, 10, 20-year goals? Olam Haba’s goals?” “How is my busying myself with my short-term goals preventing me from achieving my long-term goals?”

There is a powerful Segulah from the Mekubalim to save one from pandemics. The Segulah is to read the 42 travels of the Jewish Nation in the desert, and then to read how before each journey, the Jews were not sure where the next trip would take them. Reading this, experiencing this uncertainty of “no order,” of no idea where I will be tomorrow, is the Tikun, the rectification of pandemics. Accepting powerlessness with faith, and adapting to the new circumstances, seems to be a trait that G-d wants us all to develop.

How do we survive change we did not ask for, when things are out of order? How do we tap into the correct inner voices and know which voices to ignore? As usual, life’s answers hide in the weekly Torah portion. (see Esther R 7 17)

In this week’s Parasha, Aharon experienced the loss of his two childless elder sons, the future Gedolei Hador. Moshe consoled his brother Aharon that the death of these holy giants was for a higher purpose of showing the world not to meddle with the holiness of G-d’s Temple, no matter how holy you are. Aharon’s response was legendary. וידם אהרן. Aharon stayed silent. The passuk uses the word דום. Not שתק, which is the classic word for silence. Why?

Another question. We see that the rewards that Aharon received for this silence were that G-d spoke to him, (Berachot 6b) and, in the merit of his silence, Aharon and his descendants merited the eternal Birkat Kohanim. (וידם is numerical value of 60, the amount of the words in Birkat Kohanim. Midrash A.) How are these two rewards “measure for measure”?

The word דום is more than silent. It means to hold something that is in motion in place שֶׁ֚מֶשׁ בְּגִבְע֣וֹן דּ֔וֹם. (Yehoshua 10 12) To freeze your inner emotions. Aharon had so much to say, so many questions, so many tears to cry, so many shattered dreams… But Aharon stopped. He adapted to the situation. When you understand that change has taken place, when G-d does not give you options, we can only accept G-d. When change challenges us, we can only look back. We can never go back. M.J. Ryan, in How to survive change you did not ask for, helps us adapt to the new realities we did not choose by adapting seven truths.

1. Change is guaranteed to happen, sometime, somehow. Always embrace yourself for it. 2. It’s not personal. You are not the only one. 3. What’s comfortable, your habitual thoughts and behaviors, are not your friends. Learn objectivity. Learn to take a new, fresh look at the world that is present, as the first time you realize reality. 4. Change is not the enemy. Fear is. Time to remember your accomplishments and blessings. 5. Adapting emotionally to change is a cycle. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. 6. You’re more resilient than you think. 7. G-d packed inside your soul’s suitcase for life, the bedrock of strengths and values that make you unique. Learn what is inside your 120-year bag. Take this suitcase with you to your next stage of life.

Aharon knew that being a Jew means being ready to accept change as fast as it comes. No use in hanging on to the past, wondering what happened, how it happened or why it happened. The way to do this is to silence fear, denial, anger, bargaining, depression. G-d is everything. And G-d is only good. In the merit of silencing his inner voices, and listening to the new reality G-d made for him, Aharon merited to hear G-d speak to him. And in the merit of accepting it all, he was gifted with the eternal Birkat Kohanim, the blessing that tells us, that no matter what happens, G-d is blessing us and watching over us. That there is always good hidden in the darkest of times.

One person in Israel was quick on his feet. The first thing he did after Purim, was to close his business, and get the Misrad Habriut, Health Ministry, to OK his new, home-made 70% alcohol hand sanitizers, within 20 hours! He did not waste time reading more news, watching or sending WhatsApp clips that were irrelevant to him personally. He was not going to ponder the situation, hemming and hawing why it is like it is, whose fault it is, or speculate how long it will take. He was not getting stuck in denial. He did not accept the belief that “there is nothing I can do.” Instead, he focused on solutions, and on what new things he was willing to learn despite that it takes extra effort. He embraced the situation, knew what he needed to do, and he accomplished it. He was not going to wait for someone or something to come along to rescue him from having to change i.e., government grants. Instead, he identified new needs and how to use what’s happening to align even more with the market. He was able to say fast enough, OK, that’s over, now what?

Life is nothing more than adapting to circumstances in which we exist. This perspective is the secret to health, happiness, and serenity. King David took this concept of acceptance and adapting to a whole new level  לְמַ֤עַן׀ יְזַמֶּרְךָ֣ כָ֭בוֹד וְלֹ֣א יִדֹּ֑ם יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱ֝לֹקי לְעוֹלָ֥ם אוֹדֶֽךּ So that Kavod (my soul) will praise you, and it will not silence. YKVK, my G-d, no matter what, I will always praise you (Tehillim 30, 13) I will use the situation, no matter what it is, and find ways how to thank Hashem for it.

We were all forced to learn new skills we never realized we could be good at. Haircuts, storytelling, cleaning for Pesach, running a Seder on our own, and learning how to use the internet to better our learning, businesses, connecting with people, and saving time. We are all forced to question what we have been so busy with outside of our houses and families. And we all began to wonder where we were so busy running to and why we need fancy cars or overpriced brand-name clothing. We begin to wonder why we need to make over-attended and extravagant Semachot. And as painful as it is, the circumstance forces us to rethink why we attend our synagogues and how much we miss Minyan.

Probably the best thing I did to regain my sanity was to make a list of things I have no control over, and a list of things I do have control over. One of the things that helped me a lot was the realization of so many things I took for granted that I now have to thank G-d for. One of them, of course, is that I could be thankful for every breath I take. כֹּ֣ל הַ֭נְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּ֥ל יָ֗הּ For every breath, על כל נשימה ונשימה, we need to thank G-d. (Bereshit R 14 9) This passuk is at the very end of Tehillim, and the passuk that is relevant to the end of times, something that is so pertinent to specifically our times. This passuk, we say before Vayebarech David, which represents King David’s blessing G-d for his accumulation of funds to build the Temple. May we merit in our days.

Here are the Selfie Steps to adapt and survive change you didn’t ask for.

  1. This is not that. People compare change to other change. 2020 is not 2008. 2020 is not 9/11. 2020 is not Pearl Harbor. 2020 is 2020. America is not Italy or China or Israel. And we should look at each country, with a new and fresh 20/20 look. Compare only to learn what to embrace for.
  2. What is working now? Let us do more of that. What is not working now? Let us do less of that.
  3. When there is a lot of change look for “game changers”. Don’t settle with just improving something that could be so much better. Steve Jobs taught us that a better “Palm Pilot” is selling yourself short.
  4. Don’t make a five-foot wave into a tsunami. Don’t make things worse than they actually are.
  5. More often than not, the things we fear most don’t end up happening, and the things we fear least, can metamorphosis into our biggest crisis. Always think of worst-case scenarios and embrace yourself for any change that may come.
  6. Stay positive, no matter what. G-d allows us to confine ourselves to our own beliefs. Don’t make your situation worse than it has to be, via negative thinking.
  7. Learn how to silence emotions so that you can hear your rational inner voice. Feelings come and feelings go, but logic and rational stay forever. The only way to silence emotions and hear rational is by turning your head into a GemaraKup. תּ֮וֹרַ֤ת יְקֹוָ֣ק תְּ֭מִימָה מְשִׁ֣יבַת נָ֑פֶשׁ עֵד֥וּת יְקֹוָ֥ק נֶ֝אֱמָנָ֗ה מַחְכִּ֥ימַת פֶּֽתִי:

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