“Under the Looming Shadow of Coronavirus”

Several months ago, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, famed as a child survivor of Buchenwald, spoke before world leaders at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  Hailed by the New York Times as a “towering moral voice”, he went on to teach what I thought was a profound lesson in the universal message of the Torah. I have since that time shared this idea with several groups including non-Jewish religious leaders, in my role as senior rabbinic international educator for Ohr Torah Stone.  Little did I know then the strength of its message in light of our current unfathomable situation.

The Torah describes the first threat to humanity in the form of the flood in the book of Breishit. For forty days and forty nights the heavens poured, all living creatures were destroyed, the only survivors were the inhabitants of the ark built by Noah according to divine command. For a full year the inhabitants of this ark made up of all living creatures on earth were to remain enclosed and isolated from the world outside. For a full year the lion and the lamb dwelt together, the fox and the hare, even the cat and the mouse. None of the creatures attacked each other or harmed one another. They lived together in harmony, a harmony that was not to be replicated outside the ark following disembarkation. Why?

They knew that they had to get along, had to cooperate with each other, even help each other if they were going to survive the threat outside. For the threat out there was much worse than anything else. “Do we not have a common enemy?” asked Rav Lau. “Is there no poverty, no illness, no disease and no virus that we as humanity must face?”

We have an obligation to get along, to see each other as responsible for one another, for the threat that we face at this time spans the world and all of mankind.

The famed commentator the Ramban taught at the beginning of the portion of Parshat Vayishlach a lesson we must learn from forefather Jacob. When faced with the threat of danger in the form of his warring and violent brother Esav he prepares for his encounter in three ways. The first was to try bribing his way out of danger through gifts, the second was throgh prayer, and the third was with an elaborate escape plan. When facing inherent clear and present danger, we we are taught that we should respond in at least one if not all three of these methods.

Yet our situation is radically different from anything I have ever encountered before, for one cannot bribe the virus, noר can we escape its evil and devastating undiscriminating clutches. Perhaps all that is left, I conclude, is prayer.

This past Friday night on our street in Efrat, we prayed from our gardens and rooftops, from our balconies and windows. We joined together to pray the Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service with great fervor. This was the first joint communal prayer we recited while maintaining the required distance in some two weeks. Our synagogues are closed, our study halls are shut; we are physically apart. Yet our prayers, even when recited alone, can transcend space and time.

Like the High Priest on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies, praying for his people and the welfare of all humanity. We too should join together in prayer as we approach the festival of freedom and the Seder night known as “Leil Shimurim” the night of protection.

As our forefathers in Egypt showed their faith in Hashem by painting their mantles with the blood of the Paschal Lamb. Protecting their homes from the “Mashchit”, Destructive force that was to implement the final and most fatal of the Plague’s upon Pharaoh and his people.

We too can show our faith by raising our voices and beseeching heaven for protection. Not only for ourselves but for all of mankind. Perhaps the prayer uttered by Moshe our master and teacher will help at this time, as he witnessed his sisters Miriam’s distress. “Kel Nah Refah Nah Lah”  – “Please Gd,Heal Her, I beseech you, O, God” and may the Almighty heed our cry.

Chag Sameach, good tidings and good health, to ourselves, our communities and all of mankind. May we hear good tidings and meet in a rebuilt Yerushalayim speedily, Amen.


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