Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Corona Conundrum


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Cheshvan 28 5781
Rabbi Shmuel closed his siddur and put it back in the pocket of the bench in front of him. As he folded his tallit, he looked around the shul. He sighed. It had been a long lockdown. Closed shuls. Parking lot minyanim. Finally, finally, they were allowed back in. True, it wasn’t easy to wear a mask, but the congregants were willing to do what was necessary to protect themselves and those around them.
Everyone, that is, except Menachem. Rabbi Shmuel just couldn’t understand it. Here was a man with health problems, who needed a mask more than anyone else in the room, and yet he just refused to wear one. Rabbi Shmuel’s pleading, cajoling, and even threatening had been met with shrugs on the part of Menachem. The greatest logic Menachem could offer to explain his behavior was "I don’t like masks."
It was a Tuesday morning when the call came from Menachem’s son. "Rabbi Shmuel, my father is in the hospital. It’s not looking good," the son sobbed into the phone. "He has complications from coronavirus. Please pray for him!"
Rabbi Shmuel hung up the phone, and shook his head sadly. Why, oh why hadn’t Menachem listened to him? He opened a Tehillim as he prepared to recite the holy words for the sake of Menachem’s recovery. A thought struck him. Was it proper to pray for someone who had, seemingly, brought illness upon himself?
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
Of course it is proper to pray for Menachem. We don’t take it upon ourselves to punish others for their mistakes.
There is an even more dramatic example of this concept. If a person drives a car in violation of Shabbat, and gets into an accident, we are obligated to violate Shabbat in order to save his life. (See responsa Ohala Shel Torah, section 2, Orach Chaim, siman 56)
(Also see Tomer Devora, which elaborates extensively on how G-d continues to sustain and rescue us even after we have erred, and how we are meant to emulate G-d, and help others, despite their mistakes.)
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