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Debarim: The Proper Response to Crisis

In the famous Haftara of "Hazon Yeshayahu" (Yeshayahu, chapter 1) which is read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Ab, the prophet bemoans the fact that although the people have been stricken with crises and calamities, they persisted in their wrongdoing without repenting. He cries, "How else can you be stricken, that you add more wayward conduct?!" (1:5). G-d punished the people for their wrongdoing, but they did not take the punishments to heart, and continued their sinful behavior.

Yeshayahu then exclaims, "Kol Rosh Lo’holi Ve’chol Lebab Davai" – which literally means, "Every head is ill; every heart is pained." The Hid’a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806), however, added another interpretation, explaining this verse to mean, "every head is preoccupied with the illness, and every heart worries only about the pain." In other words, the prophet decries the fact that in response to the pain and suffering, the people are busy only with trying to find practical solutions. When they fall ill, their sole concern is finding the right doctor and treatments, instead of introspecting and improving their behavior. The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (5a) teaches, "If a person sees that suffering is befalling him, he should examine his actions." Of course, it is appropriate and necessary to take all necessary practical measures to alleviate one’s plight, such as, in the case of illness, seeking medical attention and strictly following the doctors’ instructions. However, the Hid"a explained, Yeshayahu here laments that "Kol Rosh Lo’holi" – the only thing on the people’s minds was the malady and the practical measures for curing it, as opposed to also concerning themselves with Teshuba. When we find ourselves experiencing any sort of hardship, we must understand that although we obviously cannot know for certain why G-d brought this situation upon us, He expects us to respond by examining our conduct and making real efforts to improve. If our minds and our thoughts are preoccupied only with curing the illness or solving the problems, then we are not responding properly.

This is something which, I’m afraid, many of us have overlooked during the health crisis that the world has been enduring. Undoubtedly, it was and still is incumbent upon us to stay informed and strictly adhere to all health guidelines. However, if this is our only response to the crisis, then we are guilty of "Kol Rosh Lo’holi Ve’chol Lebab Davai," of missing the message, and the opportunity, which Hashem is sending us. When trouble strikes, we must respond by taking an honest and close look at ourselves, identifying where we have room to improve, seeing which positive changes need to be made, and making a genuine effort to grow and be better. We will then be worthy of seeing the end of all our troubles and the arrival of Mashiah, speedily and in our times, Amen.

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