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The Corona Crisis: Where Man and God Meet

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As the Corona crisis proliferates - fueled by a panic mentality and fear of the unknown – so do the "conspiracy theories" that always seem to accompany these global phenomena. Was this a Chinese biological weapon in the making that somehow got out of hand? Was it the result of a secret nuclear accident, a la Chernobyl? Was it Divine punishment for "eating from a live animal," one of the 7 universal Noachide laws, allegedly violated by the Chinese wildlife market? Or, as the virus seems to strike mostly at the elderly, was it a deliberate attempt by the Chinese to trim their massive population?

And, of course, the Jewish angle can’t be left out either. So we are already hearing crazy speculation that Corona was a Jewish/Zionist invention, a sinister scenario set up so that Jews would rake in billions when they "just happened" to come out with a vaccine for the disease they themselves created.

These wild flights of imagination may be absurd in the extreme, but they flood social media joining those who believe that Castro murdered JFK, or that there never was a moon landing (how DID that flag wave without any wind?!).

Crackpot theories aside, what we CAN and should learn from this hopefully-temporary situation is one of the most crucial components of Jewish spirituality: the partnership between Man and God.

The Corona virus - as with most diseases - appeared suddenly, without warning. In that sense, it may be classified as "God-given." But that does not mean we are bidden to suffer its consequences or meekly submit to its spread. On the contrary, we are commanded by the Almighty to confront Corona - as we would any disaster, man-made or natural – and use all of the tools at our disposal in order to limit its harmful effects and find its cure.

This philosophy can be subsumed within one all-important word in the Torah (BR. 1:28) "v’chivshu’ha." When God sets Adam up as the primary creation in His universe, He tells him that Mankind must "subdue" the world; taking the imperfections which God purposely put into the world and refining and redressing them. As an eternal symbol of this, God designed human beings with a foreskin, & then commanded us to undergo Brit Mila, circumcision, to perfect our own bodies. In the famous Midrashic story, Rabbi Akiva shows the Roman general Turnus Rufus – who had mocked the Mitzva of Brit - a stalk of wheat and a basket of fresh rolls. "Which of these are nicer?" he asks him, implying Man’s ability to bring Nature to a higher degree of perfection.

This is also one of the principal lessons of Purim, the holiday just concluded. Haman’s decree, if left unchallenged, will result in the massacre of an entire Jewish community. But Mordechai and Esther understand that they must be pro-active and do everything in their power to prevent the impending catastrophe. At the same time, Esther knows that they cannot be the only ones involved, and that Divine assistance must also be invoked, and so she tells Mordechai, "gather the Jews, young and old, and tell them to fast and pray, so that God might bless my efforts to intervene successfully with the king."

In fact, says the Talmud, this is one reason why Esther perplexingly invites the arch-villain Haman to her party with Achashverosh. It is so that the nation at large will not automatically assume "we have a sister in the palace" and that all will be well, without their prayers. The suspicion that perhaps Esther has "cut her own deal" with Haman sends a palpable wave of fear through the Jewish community, propelling them to offer their own personal prayers to God for deliverance.

Corona thus presents an extraordinary challenge to humanity. We must make a global effort to both slow the virus – so that our medical institutions are not overwhelmed – as well as search for a lasting antidote. In this effort, every person must play a part: Doctors must work overtime and use their expertise to heal; governments must institute measures – many of which may seem extreme to the layman – to limit inter-personal contact by closing borders and isolating potential carriers; businesses must bite the bullet for the short term, absorbing painful, even fatal losses; and the average person must alter some of our natural, everyday habits – such as shaking hands, kissing a mezuzah or even attending celebratory events.

It’s not a pretty picture, and there certainly is no need for "The world will end in XX Days" signs. But drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and with a united effort to battle the disease together, as a worldwide village, we stand a much better chance of survival and return to our normal way of life.

Coaches in the sports world are fond of gathering the team’s players and reminding them to work as a cohesive unit. "There is no "I" in team," they like to say. But the late, great Kobe Bryant famously said, "True, there is no ‘I’ in team; but there is a ‘Me’ in there!" In this struggle against Corona, whatever we contribute to the team will result in a better, longer life for Me – and You.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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