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

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

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
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:

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
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.