As the saying goes, “Those who don’t know, speak. Those who do know are silent.” Or as the Chazal put it, “A word is worth one sela and silence is worth two” (Midrash Koheles 5:3).
There is not much we as rabbanim can really offer as to explaining the reason for the unprecedented situation that the world faces due to the coronavirus. The usual soft targets of lashon ha’ra and tz’nius (serious as they are) have fallen flat. We can’t pin this on our own behavior as it is a global menace starting in the Far East.
To me, what we are witnessing is Hashem showing the world as He did in Mitzrayim: “Relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt (Sh’mos 10:2).” Hashem seems to be showing this all-powerful world with its all-powerful economies, and its all-powerful militaries, and its ability to explore the deepest oceans and the loftiest heavens, that at the end of the day, a bowl of bat soup in some unknown city in China can put the universe into a health and economic tailspin. The world has recently broken all restraints in normal human conduct with permissiveness pervasive in all aspects of our lives. This is more than tz’nius – it is a breakdown in accepted normal codes of behavior throughout human history. All those norms have been mocked by the world for decades. Hashem seems to be now mocking us. Get back to basics, humans! Learn from Noach and the Flood!
I seem to be guilty of what I am accusing others of: assigning a reason for the current calamity. I am really not. I am not stating that this is the reason G-d chose to do what He’s doing. It is my observation that this is a lesson to be understood based on our history as recorded in the Torah.
The other day, I was on a conference call with Rav Hershel Schachter shlita, arranged by the RCA [Rabbinical Council of America] for its rabbanim. The sh’eilos relating to this year’s Yom Tov of Pesach were incredible. M’chiras chametz via email, non-availability of sh’murah matzah, leaving a radio on during Yom Tov for the lonely home-bound, minyan via Internet, etc., were actually alarming. We are living in science fiction times, never thought to actually come to fruition. Shuls closing. Yeshivos closing. The Kosel empty. Restaurants closing. Cities closing. Stock markets crashing. Even Broadway closing!
I was thinking that years from now a sefer will appear with all the bizarre and painful sh’eilos that had to be dealt with at this time. It will be looked upon as we look upon the sefer MiMaamakim by Rav Ephraim Oshry zt”l, which documented the excruciating situations and sh’eilos during Nazi Europe. It is now a novel curiosity to be studied for its fascinating discussion points.
As with all crises, the question is how we respond to the situation. That is where we test our real selves. The challenge of staying home for weeks is a challenge to our family, shalom bayis, our social need to interact...our relationship to our own selves. We must find midos (character traits) we never thought we had.
In Parshas B’Shalach (Sh’mos 10:23), describing the Plague of Darkness, the Torah says, “No man could see his brother nor could anyone rise from his place for a three-day period.” The Chidushei HaRim (first Gerer Rebbe) explains that this was the worst part of the plague. No one could get up to help or interact with his brother.
We seem to be going through our own plague of darkness, as the sun shines boldly outside. Yet there is a bright side. We suddenly miss the institutions and people we took for granted. Shuls, yeshivos, simchos, teachers, principals, rebbeim, rabbanim, spouses, friends – and Pesach itself! Welcome home! We are hunkered down to come face-to-Face alone with Hashem. So many have risen to the occasion to immediately offer Internet-based shiurim and classes for adults and kids. So many are mobilizing to help the lonely.
I guess by now you have all seen the clips coming from Israel where choirs of children and adults and mini-concerts are taking place from balconies in apartment complexes. This is to offer uplifting music to those locked in their dwellings as Israel has imposed the strictest quarantine laws. This is in order to protect its senior citizens, as PM Netanyahu explained, and was reiterated by Naftali Bennett. Only in Israel! Only Jews!
The Plague of Darkness did not affect Jews in Egypt. Now we are indeed victimized by this plague. But with the light we spread through a show of love for Torah, a love for our fellow man, a love for our schools and yeshivos, a love for davening with newfound kavanah, and an appreciation of normalcy, we will overcome this plague with Hashem’s help. I should also add that a deep respect for medical and governmental directives is critical to navigate this crisis.
Let’s hang in this together, and hopefully we will see the chodesh of g’ulah redeem us and all mankind from this unprecedented plague.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.