We are truly living in challenging times. The novel Corona virus, recently labeled as a Pandemic, has created uncertainty and confusion, sent the markets toppling, fostering dread and fear worldwide. Entire supermarkets are being emptied out of the fear of what tomorrow might bring. Schools, universities and businesses are being shuttered in efforts to stymie the spread of this dread disease.
How should we, as Jews, be responding to this situation?
The Jewish Response
We Jews, historically, do not panic in times like these as we kept a level head in far worse times in our diaspora history. This stems from our deeply felt sense of Bitachon, trust in the Al-mighty, that things are going to be all right.
Firstly, we heed the suggestions and recommendations of the health professionals and powers that be, the CDC. We practice social distancing, frequent hand-washing and stay home if we are experiencing any symptoms.
To that end, many synagogues have temporarily closed their physical doors, moving to online classes and ways to virtually join together in prayer. We, at DATA, will be offering numerous virtual classes and learning opportunities.
Those synagogues which remain open are taking extra precautions to abide by the CDC recommendations for small groups, such as spacing of participants and canceling the Kiddush and other social events.
As Jews, beyond that mentioned above, we seek a spiritual response to any difficulty which we face, this one being no different. In days of yore we sought the advice of a Prophet, something we no longer have. With thanks to the Al-mighty, we still have among us Sages who, with their vast understanding of Torah, “G-d’s Mind” as He reveals to the world, who give us direction and insight in that which transpires around us. There are Heavenly calculations which contribute to these situations which can be seen by those who have the “eye-glasses” to see them.
The leading Torah sage of our generation, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, has given us two points to focus upon as a Tikkun (correction) and a spiritual protection from this virus.
• Make a special effort to refrain from the speaking of Lashon Hara and Rechilus; to refrain from any negative words of gossip or tale-bearing against a fellow Jew. As the Talmud states, the leper is banished to be outside the camp, separate from all, because he spoke evil words and separated a husband from a wife and, therefore, he must be separated’ (Talmud, Arachin 15b).
At a time when we are forcibly being separated from each other, we should focus on an improve upon those things which spiritually cause a separation.
At this time, we should go to the other extreme. Let us focus on strengthening our bonds of love and understanding with our families with whom we will be spending these days. Let us think about others in distress, especially the elderly, offering them a comforting phone call, words of encouragement, perhaps an offer to go shopping for them to minimize the exposure of those more susceptible to the disease.
• The second point Rav Chaim has instructed us is to be humble toward others, turning away when someone may insult us or act improperly during these times (see Rosh, Horios 14a). The Talmud states that the trait of humility, especially when exercised when it is difficult to forgo one’s honor, wards off illness and the need for medical care.
Rav Chaim ends with his holy blessing that one who will heed this advice, he or she and their families will not be afflicted and will remain healthy.
Torah study and prayer
• Together with the above recommendations, many other leading sages have added that in this time, as in all other times of difficulty, our people make a special effort to strengthen that which separates us as a Holy Nation: the study of our Holy Torah. That study raises us to elevated levels of spirituality, warding off the effects of dangerous situations.
• Lastly, we, as Jews, turn to our Father in Heaven, beseeching His mercy in these difficult times. All of the above are only effective when the Al-mighty sees that we are performing these mitzvos to fulfill His will. When we turn to Him in prayer, we connect the dots and receive the Heavenly mercy as His beloved children.
If one has a yahrtzeit and cannot recite Kaddish because the synagogue is closed, one cannot recite the Kaddish alone. Kaddish needs a minyan to be recited. Under the circumstances one should light the yahrtzeit candle and study some Torah or recite some Psalms in place of reciting Kaddish in memory of the loved one. When the shuls are reopened, it would be nice to then attend shul and recite a Kaddish to make up for the day of the yahrtzeit.
May we soon merit the end of this pandemic and all the panic and destruction occurring in its wake. And may that be with the advent of the Messianic period which will spell the end of all of our issues and problems, ushering in the final period of peace and bliss for us and the entire world.