What is the title of your book during these COVID-19 times?

These are not “uncertain times;” these are defining times. These are the moments in our life when we write the title of our book. Op-ed.

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff ,

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff
Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff

The maxim that "you can’t judge a book by its cover" - is wrong. We certainly rely on a title to give us a hint of what lies inside. The era we are living in has been assigned a title. You can see it, hear it and read it throughout the media. Whether or not everyone agreed on it or they all just coincidentally named this period with the exact same wording doesn’t matter. The nomenclature is here and we are living in its
How can we bring certainty back into our lives? How can we be in “certain times”?
label - “These Uncertain Times,” even more so now that restrictions are being relaxed in Israel and some states, and no one, especially the over 60 crowd, is quite sure of the outcome.

The news announcer says it as well as the compassionate voice-over in the advertisement selling food to be delivered. “In these uncertain times, we must, we should, we can, we offer, we deliver.”

Yes, they are no doubt trying to tenderly converse without honestly proclaiming, “While we are all scared out of our minds about a virus that no one knows how to treat nor any idea where to breathe or touch or spray or wipe nor have any vaccination for, nor any calculation about the future of the economy - please buy our product and we will deliver it to you.” I can see how chanting, “In these uncertain times...” might be a good alternative.

But I must say that the reason we are unnerved and deep down confused and even frightened is because we are indeed living in “these uncertain times.” It is the uncertainty that is precisely the problem. When it comes to familiar catastrophic diseases or sharp economic swings, we might be taken aback or even depressed, but in those circumstances there are specific options and outcomes that are presented with some certainty. One may be told they have a certain amount of years or months to live or how long it will take to financially recover from a drastic pitfall. These are not idyllic situations but there is something about “knowing” that brings with it a sense of comfort and normalcy.

Being told we are living in “uncertain times” is not a polite euphemism nor a genteel soft description; it is an absolute horror. No wonder we are feeling such emotional turmoil churning inside of us. Not only are we searching for some glimpse of certainty regarding treatments, vaccinations, finances, touch, smell, or the future of our very lives - but we are assured at every step and with every broadcast that only doubt and limbo exist. After all, we are living in “uncertain times.”

How can we bring certainty back into our lives? How can we be in “certain times”?

The third Lubavitch Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, lived in some very interesting times. During his 19th century life the world experienced smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, malaria, cholera and the Bubonic plague. His personal life and his community’s survival underwent many challenges as well. His slogan was not “these uncertain times.” He is forever remembered by his mantra, “tracht gut vet zein gut.” “Think good and it will be good.”

Really? Can thinking good thoughts obliterate this pandemic virus, invent a magic pill, produce a vaccination and restore the faltering economy? By simply being positive I won’t have to wear a mask or gloves or stand six feet away? I’ll be optimistic and hopeful and then all the ventilators can be wished away and I can shake hands again and have pizza out and not delivered...and hug my grandchildren?

What was the Tzemach Tzedek thinking? Obviously he was “thinking good”; but what did he believe could happen by one’s good thoughts?

The Tzemach Tzedek knew the power of the title of the book. We have control over how we brand our lives. There is always a challenge in our ever-winding story and our cover page can define who we are and how we tell our tale - and ultimately how we experience our lives. There are those who are blessed with a baby, a bar mitzvah and a boat and they are miserable. And there are others who are chained to a malady and yet they rejoice in each moment’s blessings.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “a chosid macht a svivah.” “A person makes his environment.” The pandemic doesn’t dictate my life. I dictate how I live during a crisis. These are not “uncertain times;” these are the defining times. These are the moments in our life when we write the title of our book.

Interestingly enough, the Tzemach Tzedek was actually called the Tzemach Tzedek, Righteous Sprout, because that was the name of his published book. In the midst of all the turmoil and tumult of his generation, he was known for the “tzemach,” the “bud,” that becomes a flower. And he was specifically known for that because his book title represented the way he thought and lived. His very title exuded the growth he portrayed in the face of challenges.

“Thinking good” is not futile; it is faith. It is the seed we plant with the partnership of our Creator, Whom we know will sow and reap and produce in His time and in His way. Sometimes His way and time is revealed and sometimes we just need to keep planting seeds. By practicing our faith we may not be able to magically change the times. But we can live our lives with less anxiety in these uncertain times by being certain about something - faith. And we ultimately rename our era: "Of This I’m Certain."

Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff is an international motivational speaker and the director and founder of Tikvah Lake Recovery. He can be contacted at: nesenoff@gmail.com. His website is TikvahLake.com.