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    Coronavirus (Part 13)

    Baruch Hashem, I re-opened my shul, the Agudas Yisroel of Staten Island, last Shabbos for the first time in 13 weeks. I said a shehechianu (without using Hashem’s Name) with great feeling thinking deeply that so many shuls re-opened with many members or even their rav or rebbe missing. We re-opened with the stipulation of mandatory wearing of masks and social-distancing. Our mispalelim, including women, who wanted to come had to register and we removed many tables to ensure proper social-distancing. We are acutely aware that we do not really know if the danger has abated or is still lurking out there, waiting to start, chas v’shalom, when we let down our guard.

    As I spoke from the pulpit and looked around at the incongruous sight of a sea of masked men, some also wearing gloves, the vision was a jarring one. I asked the congregation, “Why do you think that Hashem is forcing us to come into His House with our faces covered? Why would He want our beautiful Tzelem Elokim, the Likeness of Hashem, to be hidden from view?” It would seem that Hashem is telling us that we haven’t been using our mouths with the proper discipline when we come to shul and Hashem is doing something drastic to get us to reflect about it.

    The additional bizarre need to social-distance also screams for an explanation. I am not a prophet and I don’t know for sure but it seems logical that Hashem is saying, “Now that we’re coming back to shul, I want things to be different. I put masks on you so that you should remember not talk during tefilah. To facilitate this resolve, I further insisted that you should be six feet from each other so that you shouldn’t even be tempted to talk.” At this time, we should ponder deeply the words of the Shulchan Orech; that someone who talks in shul is a choteh, a sinner, and gadol avono miniso, and his sin is too heavy to bear.

    There are some people who are returning back to shul after enjoying casual porch minyanim, (Hashem brought oppressively hot weather to bring people back into their air conditioned shul.), with the cavalier attitude they had in the backyard. However, the masks and the social-distancing should scream to us that it’s not business as usual. Let’s make a renewed commitment that when we’re in shul we’ll turn into ourselves and spend our time with Hashem and not with our friends.

    Another good step to take is a global initiative of quite a few venerable rabbonim such as Rav Eitan Feiner, Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Rav Binyomin Eisenberger, and Rav Daniel Gladstein, Rav Fischel Shechter to name but a few who, together with influential laymen such as my dear talmid Betzalel Klein, have spearheaded the practice that they have coined “Just Put It Away.” The initiative is that everyone should adopt the custom of putting away their cellphones or putting them on airplane mode for the entire davening. We want Hashem to give us His undivided attention so we should give Him our undivided attention. It is completely disrespectful to put Hashem on hold and glance at a message or look to see who’s calling while we are in the presence of Hashem. If we were at an important business meeting where we hoped to land an influential client, we would not put our phone on the table and glance at it. We should certainly not do this with Hashem. I hope you’ll join the Just Put It Away movement. It will give Hashem a lot of nachas.

    In the merit of our deepening our respect for Hashem’s House, may he shower many blessings upon our homes and grant us all long life, good health, and everything wonderful.