We are, baruch Hashem, approaching the gradual slowing of the awful virus that causes COVID-19. If we continue to remain vigilant and do not relax our guard, and if we follow the rabbanim who follow mainstream medical advice, we will, b’ezras Hashem, get to the point of relative normalcy. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We all wonder what will life be like “after the plague (BaMidbar 26:1).” Will society change? Will Jewish life change? Will our Orthodox values be affected?
Specifically, will the world become a better place? Will the emphasis on promiscuity and violence in the entertainment field come to a halt? Will life be considered precious? Will materialism give way to spiritual advancement? Will the political arena become more civil? Will countries learn to live in peace?
In our Orthodox community, will lavishness be tempered? Will weddings, bar/bas mitzvahs, sheva brachos, brisim, and upsherins become more modest affairs? Will our lifestyles become more basic? Will davening change? Will the talking during davening finally come under control?
In my humble opinion, not much will change. My wife says I’m a pessimist. We pessimists like to think of ourselves as realists.
I have always maintained that the coronavirus, which consumed the entire globe and shut it down with devastating effects, is very similar to the Mabul, the Flood in the times of Noach, except without water.
But what happened after the Flood? By the time the parshah of Noach concludes, we are introduced to the episode of the Dor Haflagah with the Tower of Babel. It is true that the Dor Haflagah followed the Flood by about 350 years; but the fact that the Torah records the episode immediately following the story of Noach and the Flood illustrates that we are to think of it as though the Flood had little effect on society at the time.
How about Egypt? We have no record of their mending their ways following their devastation at K’rias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea.
In fact, if you go through most of history, you will find that most societies did not change following devastation. Have the Europeans changed much since World Wars I and II? Remember the World Trade Center atrocity on 9/11, committed by Muslim terrorists? Shortly after, The New York Times ran an article stating that the “L word” has now become an embarrassment. That is, Liberals are finding it impossible to defend their pro-Muslim position and the liberal agenda in general.
Well, it didn’t take too long and liberalism came back with a vengeance. Liberalism, in fact, morphed into radical leftism resulting in the insane agenda of the Left that has become the backbone of today’s society: same-gender marriage, late-term abortion, and no bail for criminals – all of which were unthinkable about ten years ago but are now the norm.
So why would Hashem visit a global plague on Earth if mankind learns nothing from it?
Answer: Yom Kippur. The Jewish people spend every year on Yom Kippur fasting, while spending the day in absolute solemnity, pleading for forgiveness of our enumerated sins between man and his fellow man and between man and his Maker. But do we really change in a meaningful way? Even an iota? So why do we bother? What was Hashem’s intention with this holiest day?
The Rambam (Hilchos T’shuvah 2:8) writes, “Sins for which one repented on Yom Kippur, one repeats the repentance the following year…” Clearly, the Rambam realizes that no matter how sincerely a person expresses his intention to repent on Yom Kippur, it still bears repeating the following year. So why do we bother repenting?
It seems to me that Hashem deems it important to cleanse our souls, even if the results are not concrete. This is similar to washing laundry – even though the clothes will only get soiled again. Without laundering, clothes will get so filthy that they will never become clean again. So it is with our souls.
This epidemic may not bring about concrete changes in the way we conduct our lives over time. But we must realize that our behavior as Jews – and as men and women – is under the scrutiny of Hashem. When things get out of control, Hashem’s “system” sends its warning message.
We have been warned. Let’s hope that we heed the warning and internalize its meaning. Even if no change is made. But… let’s work on davening!
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.