We’ve All Had to Make Sacrifices

In his op-ed about traveling to Uman, Shia Eilen raises the point that it is unimaginable for one to be deprived of their spiritual mentor or source of inspiration, and that to force Breslovers to forgo their annual dose of inspiration, due to the coronavirus, would be unfair.

While the situation in which Breslovers find themselves today is certainly an extreme example, the sacrifice they are being asked to make is really no greater than the sacrifices the rest of us are making. For weeks, we were all in quarantine, and deprived of any opportunity to meet with our Rebbeim and mentors. For months, our yeshivos hakedoshos were closed, and we were all deprived of the ability to learn Torah in that setting, and to consult with our Roshei Yeshivah. Our shuls were closed as well, and many of us lost the ability to daven with a minyan, and certainly the ability to davenb’rov am.” Chassidim have missed many tischen, and many, if not most, will be unable to spend the Yamim Nora’im with their Rebbes, as they normally would.

All of us must make sacrifices in an attempt to ease the situation in which we find ourselves. While the Uman situation has a much higher profile due to its international, rather than local, stage, and therefore makes for good press, what is being asked of them is not, in my opinion, worse than what the rest of us are going through.

It is terrible when any Yid is deprived of his source of spiritual inspiration — but that is a situation that all of us are being forced to deal with.

Joel Rebibo comes very close to raising a point which I have wondered about for some months, and which I am surprised has never shown its face in the chareidi press.

There is no question that many of the decisions of the Israel Ministry of Health and the “Corona Cabinet” have been made based on political considerations rather than medical ones. And when the government turned a blind eye to the swimming, partying, and, of course, protesting (rioting?) of the general public, and eventually approved some of those behaviors, our ability to daven, learn, and go to the mikveh was still much more limited.

But why do the chareidi media and politicians immediately jump to decry the “infringement” of our “rights” and the inherent “inequality” of these policies?

As Mr. Rebibo so eloquently writes, “So what?” Why does it matter what everyone else is doing, and what is legal or illegal? I have never understood why we pay any attention to the rules made for their places of entertainment, or why — other than concern over public spread of the virus — it matters how strict they are in following those rules. Why does it offend us as a community that they don’t wear masks at their protests or maintain social distancing?

Our Gedolim have instructed us to follow the government’s restrictions. But what is even more important at this crucial time is to follow the mitzvah of “venishmartem me’od l’nafshosechem.” We need to maintain a responsible standard of behavior even if the government would not demand it of us, based on the recommendations of medical doctors who are knowledgeable about the threat with which we are dealing (as opposed to the “doctors and scientists” who have just signed a letter to the government demanding that Israel switch to the “Swedish model,” most of whom were researchers or academics with little or no medical knowledge). And right now, those doctors say that masks and social distancing will slow the spread, recommend limiting travel and exposure to others, and say gatherings of any kind should be held only with small groups.

Eliezer Katz

Shia Eilen replies:

Thank you for your letter, which raises some very valid points.

However, I do think that there is a distinction to be made between those kehillos who were still able to have an ongoing connection to their Rebbe throughout the current crisis, and the Breslover Chassidim. Most contemporary Rebbes did, in recent weeks, receive their Chassidim in person — with proper precautions including some with glass partitions, and others spoke to their Chassidim over the telephone. While they may not be able to daven with their Rebbe or attend a tisch, their followers still managed to connect with their Rebbe in a tangible and meaningful way. In the case of Breslov, this obviously is not feasible, and denying them the chance to come to Uman on Rosh Hashanah is a very devastating blow.

In addition, as I wrote in my article, allowing Chassidim to go to Uman does not have to be a contradiction with taking proper precautions. It is possible to do both; all it takes is some willpower and creativity.