Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic
To dedicate this lesson

Spiritual Fallout


Rabbi Berel Wein

Av 26 5780
The current Corona epidemic has created many types of victims in its wake. Tragically, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have died from the effects of the virus, out of the millions of others, really tens if not hundreds of millions of others, who contracted the disease. Thank God, over 90% of those who were sick have recovered and even though there is some anecdotal evidence that residue symptoms exist in those that were seemingly cured of the disease, in the main it must be said that we consider ourselves relatively fortunate as far as the clinical aspects of the pandemic are concerned. However, there has been enormous collateral damage done to the societies of the world from this bitter plague that has been visited upon us.

We are all aware of the fallout that has destroyed the world's economies and has left tens of millions of people unemployed and practically destitute. Even though there are signs of a recovery in certain economies of the world such as the United States, the economic situation here in Israel remains uncertain at best and bleak at worst. And let no one at any time minimize the effects of economic woes, unemployment, financial insecurity and losses of home and businesses on the human psyche and condition. There are relatively few happy and contented people present amongst us. The pandemic has taken an economic and psychological toll that is enormous and weighs heavily upon the functions of our society. My friends, a plague is a plague is a plague!

Aside from the physical and economic havoc wrought by the Corona pandemic, I have sensed a spiritual fallout as well. Naturally, the inability to have live, personal, face-to-face Torah study has, in many ways, crippled us. With all of the wonders of Zoom and all of the gratitude that we should have that this technology allowed for Torah study during this most trying period of time, it is apparent that such study is much more difficult and less rewarding than the good old-fashioned way of listening to a live lecture or learning one-on-one with a study partner.

The results are still out as to the success of Zoom use in the schools. Anecdotally, I observed both in the United States and here in Israel that it places far more stress on the teacher and in one way or another that stress must be communicated to the student no matter how comfortable and welcoming the virtual classroom may be. Anyone who is tempted to think that when, God willing, the pandemic finally runs its course and schooling can be continued on a permanent basis, choosing only Zoom and the virtual classrooms is sadly mistaken. Even the most rabid fan of homeschooling and technical learning must admit that the social interaction between fellow students and live instructors is a very necessary part of the overall education and social makeup of students at all levels of schooling. How this gap in the education of the next generation will be redressed is one of the great problems that faces our society.

And, you all know that I am very opinionated when it comes to the question of attendance at synagogue worship services. To me, all the outdoor minyanim that take place, of necessity during this pandemic, are nevertheless inferior spiritually to attending services at a synagogue, even if that synagogue service is limited only to 10 men. These ad hoc minyanim have bred descent, disagreements, personal hurts and are often devoid of content and meaning to the prayers being offered.

I realize that we have no choice in this matter and that these minyanim must perforce continue to operate. I also have no doubt from my experience of being a rabbi for over 60 years that even when the pandemic ends many of these ad hoc minyanim will continue. Attending the synagogue always is somewhat of an inconvenience and after all, we go to great lengths to escape inconveniences in our lives. But I think we should all recognize that there is a spiritual price to be paid for the absence from regular attendance at our synagogue. We will have to work hard to redress that loss when the situation will change for the better, and we pray that it will do so speedily and completely.

Shabbat shalom

All blessings,
Berel Wein
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