Coronavirus: an 11th plague?

We will all have a new, uninvited guest at our Seder tables this year. It will be COVID-19, the dreaded virus now afflicting the entire world. 

I prefer to call this thief of life by its earliest name, coronavirus, because COVID sounds too much like the Hebrew or Yiddish Kavod, meaning honor and respect. But regardless of name, it will be with us as we break and eat our matzo, and as we dip wine from our glasses to mark the 10 plagues visited upon Pharaoh in Egypt by Moses, through the Hand of God. 

Is it possible that God has actually created this new plague now being visited upon us — upon everyone in the whole world?

Sometimes, God gets angry — very angry, as in the case of Adam and Eve defying directions not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But when they did, they were banished from their beautiful Garden of Eden home, to — where?

When I began college, I had a class in zoology taught not by a full professor, but by a graduate student working on his Ph.D. And on that very first day, he told us how he — a practicing, believing Catholic — could reconcile that Bible tale with scientific truths discovered long since those foundational stories were written. Here is what he said: 

“I truly believe the story exactly as it’s told in the Old Testament. But I believe there is more to it than is told there. I suspect that when God banished Adam and Eve from that beautiful garden, they were not just shoved out to be on their own; God led them to the waters which had been created so recently before them, and told them that they would now be reduced to the status of the least creatures in that water, and their task would be to work themselves up and out into humanity — again.”

I like that, because it means that God was delivering those “sinners” into the major force already at work before them: Nature, which has its own powers over land and water, over what grows and when it dies and over the birth and death of plagues like the coronavirus. Maybe God gave Nature permission to decide when the earth was overfilled with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and to find ways to diminish their number. That’s what plagues are for. When this one reaches its life’s end — as it certainly will — there will be far less of us on God’s good earth. This virus will take away the elderly — an immediate population reduction — and will also kill a number of those in childbearing age, to assure fewer next-generation births.

We do not have to set an extra place for our unwanted 2020 Seder “guest” — he is certainly not Elijah, and will not be able to diminish the wine in that special goblet by himself. But we cannot ignore his presence in this plague-ridden year. Just as we need to fight against him with cautious, health-affirming physical behavior, we can do so by adding some extra prayers to those already written in our Haggadot. We can double-down with words from many other sources that promise the strength we need now, and I am personally reminded of the hymn we sang as children at Jewish summer camp before our Friday evening dinners, that began “Come, O Sabbath day and bring — peace and healing on thy wing…” We can just change “Sabbath day” to something timelier, more relevant and more inclusive: Pesach! And certainly, each of us can dip a finger one extra time as we diminish our wine a bit more by adding an 11th drop — and name — to our recitation of the traditional Ten Plagues. Maybe this will not help anything in real time — but it certainly won’t hurt! 

And let us be extra loud this year as we pronounce “Next Year in (a plague-free) Jerusalem!” 

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