E-shaylos and Observations on Corona

The following is an e-mail correspondence:

e-shaylah #1:

The Rav wrote (in the previous article written about coronavirus): And yet, few people seem to be attempting to learn any lessons from this. Now and again, I read or hear of an individual Rav expressing his personal takeaways from the crisis, but I have seen and heard no response from a world leader regarding any type of ethical or moral response. Quite the contrary: Politicians have been acting as politicians, rather than as the statesmen whose true leadership we would like to see. I have seen no one act as the King of Nineveh did upon hearing Yonah’s castigation – or, more accurately, Yonah’s threat. The world is filled with more anti-Semitism than since WWII. Israeli politicians are filled with more abhorrent anti-religious anti-Semitism than ever.

I indeed had this question for the Rav since March:

Without a Navi, how are the nations of the world supposed to do the process described above? Eighteen years of searching (since I became frum) concerning the events that caused me and others to do teshuva is a rather vague process; one that I really have only started to maturely focus on over the last year or so. Therefore, if, as a frum Jew, I see events in my life and in the world in general as, at most, a vague impetus to teshuva, how can we expect the nations to start seeking G-dliness as a means out of their predicaments (even of international impact such as coronavirus)?

Answer from YK:

Please read Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Whether or not you think his exact interpretation is correct, he certainly saw the US civil war as admonition from Hashem about society’s evils, and he had no compunctions in sharing this with the entire US population, as president. Clearly, he understood that his job as president included leading people to do teshuvah.

This is clearly what Hashem is telling Macron, Trump, Putin, Trudeau, Boris Johnson, Modi, MBS, Erdogan, Xi, Merkel, AMLO, Kurtz, and all the rest, whether they want to hear it or not.

e-shaylah #2:

Recent statistics say that dangerous cases of coronavirus now make up 0.6% of the cases. I know that there are halachic authorities who rule that vaccines should be used when the danger rate is 0.1%, as does the Mishnah Berurah when talking about sakana. Are their numbers exact, or were they rounding off?

Meaning, can one say to himself now, the chances of getting into a case of sakana are so low, I have no obligation to worry, since there is a large chance, that I will not catch it altogether, and even if I catch it, the rate of serious illness is very low?

Obviously, this has nothing to do with needing to listen to the government (or how poorly the government might be managing this), nor the cheshbon of getting others sick, and I am not taking into account age differences or previous conditions, since the stats I’m quoting do not. I presume someone my age (45) would have less need to be careful.

Answer from YK:

I believe that you are correct, that for someone in your age range, there is no halachic requirement to be concerned.

e-shaylah #3:

The rav said that it is permitted to endanger oneself for parnasah. Does parnasah permit me to endanger others?

Answer from YK:

To the extent that Corona endangers others, yes. A caravan driver or boatman is not obligated to ask his passengers why they are traveling, even though they are endangering themselves. In other words, they may have no heter to travel, and he is permitted to take them because this is his parnasah. Similarly, I know of no source in halacha that gives anyone permission to insist that a business close, or to otherwise deprive someone of a legitimate parnasah. Any such government action is overreach, even should the danger to most customers be significant. Consequently, any fines are halachically theft.

e-shaylah #4:

Lichvod Rav Kaganoff, shlita

Our eight-year-old son has been complaining about kids bothering him in cheder. He is very makpid about wearing a mask, even when he eats. One of his complaints is that kids pull off his mask.

When we asked his rebbe how he’s doing socially, he answered that he had not noticed any problems, but he did suggest that maybe our son sometimes take off his mask.

Should we tell our son to be somewhat less makpid, such as when they play outside in the yard, or when eating, to see if it will mitigate his difficulties?

Answer from YK:

You should definitely tell your son to take off his mask.

But I suggest that the rebbe switch professions. We need more policemen like him, and rabayim who are more supportive of their students.

e-shaylah #5: This shaylah came from Latin America.

Dina demalchusa dina: ¿Do we have to follow every law regarding Covid? For example, in my country, now, the malls are open, but not the shuls! ¿Do we have to follow this? ¿Are we required to cancel minyanim´s, even if there is only a tiny possibility of getting sick?  Is it permitted to arrange a minyan with 20 to 30-year-olds¿

Answer from YK:

You are permitted to have minyanim with young people. I am not addressing the questions about fines and potential chillul Hashem, since I do not know the atmosphere and attitudes in your community and country. I am simply answering the question as to whether dina demalchusa dina, or the rules of sakanah apply here. They do not.

e-shaylah #6:

Subject: Schooling Question

Dear Rav Kaganoff,

Both the cheder to which I send my younger boys and the seminar (high school) where my older daughter is a student are being lax about upholding the health department Corona rules (the schools do not require that students wear masks). We do not want to send our children to class under these circumstances, especially since I have a medical condition that puts me at a higher risk.  At this moment, all three of these children have their education nearly at a standstill.  I should note that the daughter has been going to the school daily to remind her teachers to call her and include her in the class, but to very little avail.

What does the Rav think?

Answer from YK:

The concerns you raise are valid. A lot of practical errors are being made — I myself am staying in the house for the most part, something that caused me to lose one of my part time jobs.

On the other hand, we need to balance this against children’s social needs to learn proper and appropriate interaction. Difficult to judge.

(Follow up question)

What does the Rav think of the possibility of moving my family to a place where the situation is taken with the appropriate seriousness?  And what does the Rav think of the possibility of my daughter pursuing her limudei chol with an online institution?

(Answer)

I don’t think moving is a good idea; I don’t believe that when you get there you will find that people are taking the situation any more seriously.
I don’t know your daughter, and therefore I cannot make a judgment on this.

e-shaylah #7:

Dear Rav:

Why has there been no decree of taanis or Tehillim?

Answer from YK:

Halachically, it has not reached the levels of mageifah. We see from the Gemara that there are requirements for such things. However, the malfeasance, overreach and poor planning of most governments have resulted in major loss of parnasah for most people in the world, and very possibly could lead to a world recession. These are major halachic concerns, for which there are the requirements of communal tefillos.

e-shaylah #8: What do you think of these observations by Bill Gates?

(note: > introduces my observations on what Gates said.)

“Subject: What is the Corona/Covid-19 Virus Really Teaching Us?

I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad.”

> A strong start. But unfortunately, I don’t think he truly understands what “spiritual” means, as we will see later. I also deleted a lot of the items he mentioned in this piece as his political opinions and not spiritual observations.

“As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the Corona/Covid-19 virus is really doing to us:

1) It is reminding us that we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or how famous we are. This disease treats us all equally.

2) It is reminding us that we are all connected, and something that affects one person, has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value, as this virus does not need a passport.”

> I am not sure what he intends to accomplish with this last statement.

“3) It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression…

“4) It is reminding us of the shortness of life and of what is most important for us to do, which is to help each other, especially those who are old or sick…

“5) It is reminding us of how materialistic our society has become and how, when in times of difficulty, we remember that it’s the essentials that we need (food, water, medicine) as opposed to the luxuries that we sometimes, unnecessarily, give value to.

“6) It is reminding us of how important our family and home life is, and how much we have neglected this. It is forcing us back into our houses, so we can rebuild them into our home and strengthen our family unit.

“7) It is reminding us that our true work is not our job; that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another.

“8) It is reminding us to keep our egos in check. It is reminding us that no matter how great we think we are or how great others think we are, a virus can bring our world to a standstill.

“9) It is reminding us that the power of freewill is in our hands. We can choose to cooperate and help each other, to share, to give, to help and to support each other or we can choose to be selfish, to hoard, to look after only our self (sic.). Indeed… difficulties bring out our true colors.

“10) It is reminding us that we can be patient, or we can panic. We can either understand that this type of situation has happened many times before in history and will pass, or we can panic and see it as the end of the world and, consequently, cause ourselves more harm than good.”

>After several excellent points, here Bill missed Hashem’s point completely. Neither patience nor panic is the correct response. “Panic” occurs when we feel that no One is in charge. “Patience” implies that Hashem is not teaching us. The lesson here is not from a general observation of mankind and history. It is that Hashem cares — To quote the pasuk in Yirmiyohu (2:30): “For naught have I struck My children, they learned no lesson.” I note that this posuk is in Bill Gates’ Bible, and the lesson is taught in all western religions. But Bill didn’t learn it, either from the Bible or from Honest Abe. Now, back to Bill Gates.

“11) It is reminding us that this can either be an end or a new beginning. This can be a time of reflection and understanding, where we learn from our mistakes, or it can be the start of a cycle which will continue, until we finally learn the lesson we are meant to.”

>This is excellently worded. World, is anyone listening?

“12) It is reminding us that after every difficulty, there is always ease. Life is cyclical, and this is just a phase in this great cycle. We do not need to panic; this, too, shall pass.

> Sorry, Bill. This is exactly the wrong message of Covid-19. Hashem is talking to us, all of mankind. We are not listening.

“13) Whereas many see the Corona/Covid-19 virus as a great disaster, I prefer to see it as a great corrector. It is sent to remind us of the important lessons that we seem to have forgotten, and it is up to us if we will learn them, or not.”

> Here, Bill got it right.

Not since Migdal Bavel has there been such an opportunity for the world to truly unite. But, unfortunately, it is politics as usual — both within countries, and between countries. Let us note that makas dam could easily have been all that was necessary to get the Jews out of Egypt – but this was not Hashem’s only goal. His goal was for all mankind to recognize that Hashem is one G-d, and Yetzias Mitzrayim accomplished that, to a great extent. Is coronavirus His follow-up message, or just a reminder?




Corona-virus Takeaways – One Man’s Perspective

This morning, I rather suddenly and perhaps rashly decided
that I would put my thoughts on paper about the current world crisis. I take responsibility
for these as my own opinions, although I believe that they are solidly built on
Torah sources. Then again, I believe that everything I write falls under that
category, and not everyone always agrees.

My first observation:

None of us has ever experienced this type of pandemic
before. Indeed, the world has become much more populated and much more of a
global village in the last few years. There is no question that technology has
added hours to our days and years to our lives. Technology provides medical
care for the ill, at the same time that it indirectly caused the spread of this
pandemic to places unimaginable previously, and with unprecedented speed.

My second observation:

Most, if not all, of the worldwide crises that we have
experienced in recent decades have been caused by man. Although there have been
earthquakes, hurricanes, mine collapses, avalanches, tornadoes, and devastating
forest fires, these are all relatively local crises, where people and nations
distant from the catastrophe are not affected directly. Even the tsunami that
killed hundreds of thousands of people affected only those near the Indian
Ocean.

In contrast are man-made crises: Terrorism of all types has
become and remains a worldwide dilemma, and the 20th century took us
through two catastrophic world wars.

I do not want to enter scientific and political debate as to
whether the crisis of global warming is manmade or not; even assuming that it
is not manmade, it is not as acute a problem as the coronavirus is.

Although many may be to blame for how they have dealt with
this crisis, no one serious blames mankind for intentionally creating the
coronavirus. Without question, this is a direct communication to all of mankind
from Hashem. The entire world may perhaps not have had such a direct
communication since all the rivers and oceans split along with the Yam Suf.
And yet, few people seem to be attempting to learn any lessons from this. Now
and again, I read or hear of an individual Rav expressing his personal
takeaways from the crisis, but I have seen and heard no response from a world
leader regarding any type of ethical or moral response. Quite the contrary:
Politicians have been acting as politicians, rather than as the statesmen whose
true leadership we would like to see. I have seen no one act as the King of
Nineveh did upon hearing Yonah’s castigation – or, more accurately, Yonah’s
threat.

I want to focus on obvious lessons that Hashem is clearly
telling everyone in the world.

The basic instruction in order to limit the virus’s spread
is social distancing. No hugging, kissing, or even handshaking. Eliminate all
social gatherings. Maintain a social distance of several feet. Of what does
that remind you?

Around the world, people have been placed in social
quarantine for fourteen days. Again, this is reminiscent of the laws of metzora,
where the maximum time for someone who is a metzora musgar is two weeks.
(Although the halacha is that for a metzora, “two weeks” means
thirteen days, the association is there. Furthermore, the vast world of Bible
readers who do not know about Chazal certainly associate this with two
full weeks.) Aside from the prohibition of loshon hora, with which
metzora
is associated, Chazal have told us that there are many other
social malpractices for which the punishment of tzaraas is a reminder
and admonishment (see Arachin 16a; Midrash Rabbah on the verses
of tzaraas).

My third observation

For whatever reason, I had tremendous difficulty remembering
the name COVID-19, the official name of this virus. However, two fairly simple
memory devices have helped me: The word kavod, כבוד, (COVID) – and the gematriya of the
word cheit,sin, including its kolel (a term for gematriya
enthusiasts) equals 19.

My fourth observation:

Do we need a crisis of this proportion in order to interact
with our children on a daily basis?

My fifth observation:

All of life is so unpredictable these days (I guess that’s
another lesson) that I’ll wait to see what tomorrow brings, and then we’ll plan.
I say this in a country in which until this point, thank G-d, there is some
degree of control regarding the spread of the contagious malady; in many
countries, the medical facilities have completely collapsed or are in serious
danger of doing so. A physician in New York City dealing with the crisis
reported to me earlier today that medical supplies are critically low and
running out quickly – in the country that many, if not most, people consider
the epitome of world civilization and development.

To quote some of today’s news items:

“Hospitals
across the U.S. are running out of the masks, gowns and other equipment they
need to protect staff against the novel coronavirus as they struggle to take
care of patients, say hospital officials, doctors and others in the industry…
The Pentagon stepped into the breach by offering on Tuesday to supply up to
five million respirator masks, as health-care officials and workers say the
situation is dire. Administrators at the headquarters of the Providence health
system are in conference rooms assembling makeshift face shields from vinyl,
elastic and two-sided tape because supplies are drying up. Nurses from Brigham
and Women’s Hospital in Boston, preparing for a potential shortage, have
pleaded with friends on Facebook for any goggles and other gear they might have
lying around. ‘I’m reusing my mask from yesterday,’ said Calvin Sun, an
emergency-room doctor in New York City. ‘We really have no choice.’”

Perhaps we should have more of a day-to-day relationship
with Hashem. As the Gemara states, the manna arrived daily for the Jews
in the Desert, and then there was nothing to eat until the next day. When we
have no idea what tomorrow will bring, our prayers to Hashem may take on
greater seriousness.

My sixth observation – Hashem’s chesed #1

As contagious as coronavirus is, for the majority of people
afflicted by it, its symptoms are generally no more serious than typical
influenza, which strikes the world annually. If the virus spread this way were
as deadly as the bubonic plague, AIDS, or various other maladies that have
affected mankind, the death rate would be in geometric proportion to what it
is. Assuming that this is a Divine message, wouldn’t we prefer this message to
some of the alternatives?

My seventh observation – Hashem’s chesed #2

Assuming that Hashem needed to warn mankind of something,
there is a lot of chesed involved in when and how he warned us. For
example, it became a crisis after the tremendous kiddush Hashem of the
worldwide Siyumei Hashas, all across the globe. Imagine if all of these
siyumim
had been forced to cancel! All that incredible kiddush Hashem would
not have happened.

My eighth observation: The Economy

This crisis without question is destroying economies. What
we do not yet know is whether it will set off a worldwide recession, or be a
temporary blip that passes soon. Perhaps the answer to this question depends on
how we react and respond to it?

My ninth observation: The Elderly

Coronavirus has proven much more lethal among the elderly, in
which the death rate, I was told, is close to 20% of those infected. Some have
stated that the slow response in some countries to the pandemic is related to
their attitude toward the elderly and infirm, and perhaps toward the sanctity
of life in general.

My tenth observation – Pesach hotels

I write this observation with trepidation, since there is an
implied criticism of many of my very close friends, and I certainly do not
consider myself worthy of giving musar to them. Among the many
businesses that this crisis has decimated is the vast business of Pesach
hotels. In Israel, a newspaper report anticipates a matzah shortage caused by
the 13% of Israeli residents who are not going to hotels for Pesach this year
because of the crisis. Apparently, because they will be home they will need to
acquire matzos, which will cause a shortage.

I was raised in what today would probably be called a modern
orthodox family – and Pesach was spent with family. We had a well-established
practice that we did not eat in anyone else’s home on Pesach, unless we were
spending Pesach in that home. Do we want our children to view Pesach as a
family experience, or a social one?

I have other observations on the topic, but, as the old
adage runs, not everything that you think should you say, not everything you
say should you write, and not everything you write should you publish.

With my best wishes that:

  1. All of G-d’s children who are ill should recover.
  2. This crisis should pass quickly, and the economic repercussions should be mild.
  3. All of mankind should learn the lessons that Hashem wants to teach us.