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Home » Events in the News

Corona: G-d Is Watching

Submitted by on April 14, 2020 – 1:36 pmNo Comment | 390 views

G-d is watching all the time. He neither slumbers nor sleeps; never gets distracted or overwhelmed. He is always watching.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking I am going to sermonize on the theological belief that G-d is watching even in times of difficulty. If we ask where G-d is while we are in isolation, the answer is G-d is watching and has our back. If we ask whether G-d knows of our troubles and distresses, our loneliness and social starvation, the answer is that G-d is watching.

But no, that is not where I am going. I am indeed guilty of such sermons on a fairly regular basis, but not today. Today, I wish to take us on an entirely different journey.

In Isolation
When we are surrounded by people, at the mall or at social gatherings, we are on our best behavior because people are watching. We dress up, we watch our behavior and words, because we don’t want others to think ill of us. But when we are alone and no one is watching, we can grow lax. We don’t need to dress up, use makeup or perfume, worry about proper etiquette or a disciplined schedule. We can sleep in, go to bed late, skip shaving, or dress in dungarees; nobody is watching. For whom should we dress up?

In isolation, when no one is watching, it is harder than ever to motivate ourselves to go out of our way. There is a tendency to become slovenly and lax, sluggish, and indolent. To wake up late, to neglect ourselves and our duties, and certainly to neglect G-d. Who is going to know if we pray this morning or don’t? Who is going to know if we eat some bread on Passover or not?

It is not only about who is going to know, it is also about being motivated to do things right. When we are among others, we want to be at our best. Others support and uplift us; they inspire us to be the best that we can be. Not just to impress others but because we want to. But when we are alone, who really cares? We are not motivated to pick up the phone and offer condolences to the friend who lost a loved one. we are not motivated, to get online and use the credit card to donate to others in need. we are not motivated to pray or to study; to wrap our minds around complicated texts or to spend an hour in prayer.

After a prolonged period of indolence, we begin to grow slovenly and to lose respect even for ourselves. We don’t feel the need to dress up, so we spend the day in bedclothes. We don’t feel the need to bathe, so we spend the day in sloth. Not grooming ourselves or maintaining personal hygiene can be comforting for a few hours or a day at most, but prolonged exposure to such indolence takes a toll on our psyche. It drags us down. It robs us of purpose and direction, of vigor and strength, of zeal and determination. It leaves us a shell of our former selves.

I am sure none of us have reached this state, but we might have started to slip down this slope and caught ourselves. We slip down again and catch ourselves again. But at some point, we ask ourselves why we bother?

G-d Is Watching
The answer is because G-d is watching. A fellow once asked his rabbi to keep a lookout on whether anyone was coming down the street while he climbed a tree to steal a few apples. The rabbi began to shout, someone is looking, come down. The man clambered down as fast as possible and looked about, but no one was visible for miles. Who was looking, he asked? G-d is watching, replied the rabbi.

When the Talmudic sage Rabbi Eliezer was on his deathbed, his students asked for his parting words. He replied, fear G-d as you would fear a fellow human. Is that all, they asked. Yes, he replied. When we commit crimes, we don’t say, I hope G-d isn’t watching. We say, I hope people aren’t watching.

In isolation, we must develop a much more personal connection with G-d than in social circles. In isolation, G-d becomes real to us. As real as a fellow person sitting beside us. G-d is at my bedside every morning and eagerly awaits my awakening. He wants me to get out of bed, wash up and get dressed. He can’t wait to hear my prayer. He wants to converse with me. He loves me. If G-d is watching, I want to get dressed. I need to look my best for G-d. I won’t talk to G-d while dressed in pajamas.

I won’t spend my entire day watching lazy reruns of old TV shows. If G-d wants my company, I will spend time with Him; studying His teachings in those complicated texts that I am otherwise not motivated to learn. I will plug into the plentiful variety of online classes which will enrich my daily experience and my isolation routine. G-d is watching. He is with me and I am not alone. I am with G-d.

In the end, we feel better for it. We feel more accomplished when we pull ourselves together. We regain our purpose and direction, our cheer and sense of wellbeing. We have a morning and an evening, an ordered schedule that takes us from where we are to where we want to be. Every day is an accomplishing journey of growth that leads us to places we have never experienced before. It leaves us feeling accomplished and fulfilled. It leaves us feeling so much better about ourselves. Not to mention, it leaves us with the knowledge that we are keeping the best company we ever kept.

Before the End
The Jewish mystics taught that just before the dawn of Mashiach, the night of exile will grow darkest. The light of Torah has been turned off today in Torah academies and day schools around the world. The sanctity of prayer and Torah reading has been canceled with the closing of synagogues and communal prayer services around the world. We have been deprived of the inspiration derived from studying, singing, and praying in large groups. When we join thousands of Jews at the Western Wall, we are inspired to pray along. When the square lies empty, we feel deprived and alone.

It is a time of intense darkness. Never has there been such a massive global pause in Torah and prayer. The only historical era that might compare to this in terms of magnitude, is the destruction of the Holy Temple when Jews lost their conventional venue and method of ecclesiastic devotion. Yet, they pulled together and soldiered on, as do we. We lost our synagogues and gatherings, but not our souls.

As a river’s current gathers strength and velocity when the waters grow shallow and encounter obstacles, so do we. In a sense, this added momentum is better than the still waters that run deep when we are at the synagogue immersed in holiness and surrounded by fellow Jews. When our prayers services resume, we will be all the better for having had this experience, if we do it right.

But the most important benefit is that of redemption. Passover is a festival that celebrates redemptions, past and future. The added intimacy with G-d that we experience in isolation can generate the power to catapult us directly over the top and into the messianic era—a time when we will be fully submerged in divine revelation. At that time, we will pine for the rush and power of these days when we experience a self-generated intimacy with G-d. When we feel keenly and deeply that G-d is always watching.

Let us take advantage of our obstacles. Let us generate a rush and momentum. Let us grow closer to G-d.[1]

[1] This essay is loosely based on Toras Menachem 5745:3, pp. 1679–1685.

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