We pray that this pandemic will come to an end soon and that world governments and agencies will speedily find the tools to combat and eradicate it. But, in the meantime, it would behoove us to also learn some life-lessons that have emerged from this disease, directly and indirectly. And so, here are five pressing lessons.Rabbi Allouche
Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Chinese officials announced that they had identified a new virus. They eventually named it the COVID-19, now widely known as “the coronavirus.”
To date, more than 90,000 people have been affected by this virus globally, including 3,000 deaths. In many countries, schools and universities, malls and sports stadiums, have been ordered shut. Major conferences, trade shows, and world tournaments, and many international fights, have been canceled.
We pray that this pandemic will come to an end soon and that world governments and agencies will speedily find the tools to combat and eradicate it. But, in the meantime, it would behoove us to also learn some life-lessons that have emerged from this disease, directly and indirectly.
And so, here are five pressing lessons:
LESSON ONE: One Sneeze Can Change The World
It boggles the mind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 spread viral particles through coughing and sneezing that can instantly infect tens, if not hundreds, of people.
The lesson is powerful: we each possess two forces within – a body and a soul. Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist (1858-1917), and many others, famously called man a “homo duplex,” or, a “double man,” referring to this idea. But if small particles from our body can produce such havoc in our world, just imagine how much good our souls can create with its Divine particles! If one sneeze can affect our world so dramatically, one positive deed can certainly produce an even greater change!
This stands as one of the most underestimated truths of life: As the COVID-19 has proved, each of us holds the power to alter the state of our society. If we can allow our souls to produce some Divine particles through deeds of goodness and kindness, we too can then engender a positive revolution that can, and will, eventually change our world for the better.
As Maimonides, the medieval Rabbi, physician, and philosopher, once put it: “Each person must view himself and the entire world as being half meritorious and half guilty. If he does one single good deed, he can tip the scale and bring deliverance and salvation to the entire world” (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Repentance 3.5).
LESSON TWO: A Little Bit of Fear Is Good
Franklin D. Roosevelt famously exclaimed that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself,” in his first inauguration speech on March 4, 1933. Yet dare I ask, is it true that we should not be afraid of fear? Is fear entirely illegitimate?
Judaism would disagree. Don’t get me wrong: fear can be dangerous. It can paralyze the mind, stifle our growth, and lead to habits of destruction. But fear can also be positive and constructive.
Take, for example, the COVID-19 coronavirus. It is no secret that it has spread fear among individuals of all backgrounds and cultures. People are increasingly afraid to congregate, travel, attend public events, and even send their children to school.
But the more we fear for what will be in the future, the more we can also learn to appreciate all that we have, today, at this very moment.
Turbulent times like these, teach us – in such harsh ways – that life is so vulnerable, that seeming certainties are so uncertain, and that material achievements are so fleeting. The fear that then naturally emerges from these realizations can rattle us profoundly. But it can, and it must, also awaken us to a renewed appreciation and commitment to all that is firm and certain in our lives, such as deepening our relationships with our spouses, children, and friends, re-dedicating ourselves to living a life of purpose, and learning to recognize, and be grateful for, the infinite blessings that God bestows upon us each day.
Perhaps, this is why the wisest of man, King Solomon taught that “happy is the man who is always fearful,” (Proverbs 28:14). A little bit of fear is very valuable. For it prevents us from falling into a stalemate state and it opens our eyes to all the good treasures that lie within us and in front of us, that we may have been too numb to notice.
LESSON THREE: The Unbreakable Power of unity
As I write these words, world-governments and international experts are collaborating in unprecedented ways to find a vaccine and possible cures for this coronavirus. Additionally, according to the Knights Center for Journalisms in the Americas, the coronavirus has brought together media personnel from 91 organizations in 40 countries “to disprove rumors and combat disinformation about the coronavirus epidemic.”
It is in historic moments of unity such as these that we are privy to the power of collective responsibility. And when we come together as one, even the most destructive of diseases become curable, and even the cruelest of challenges are, eventually, surmountable.
It is no secret that we live in tumultuous and divisive times. Our status as “ONE” nation under G-d is menaced by discords, of all sorts. Yet, the coronavirus teaches us all that the health and success of our future rely on one essential pillar: Respecting each other for who we are: people of all kinds, who were created in the image of G-d. We can certainly disagree; but we must not become disagreeable. We can battle ideas; but we cannot battle people. We can frame the content of our conversation; but we cannot frame the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings.
And when we join hands together, a path of redemption is then paved. Like the colors of a rainbow or a symphony of instruments, true beauty and harmony will only emanate from our ability to unite and collaborate together.
LESSON FOUR: “Keeping Good Hygiene” Must Apply To All Areas
With the rapid spread of the coronavirus, health officials are constantly warning us to “keep good hygiene” by making sure to “scrub our hands for at least 20 seconds frequently, cover our noses and mouths when we cough, and try to avoid contact with strangers.” Tech experts are also cautioning us to clean our tech-devices as often as we can as viruses can live on the surfaces of our screens for “up to 96 hours,” or “four days at room temperature.”
This has led many of us to undertake extra measures of protection from wearing masks to sanitizing our hands and faces compulsively.
But I wonder: are we as careful about physical infections as we are about spiritual ones? What if we were just as attentive about the spiritual viruses that we or others may spread, such as negative words and actions?
It is no secret that we live in an age of impulsions and instant gratifications. In social media, we often do not hesitate to voice our immediate reaction to every story under the sun. But not every Facebook post is worthy of our likes, pokes, and comments. Not every Tweet is worthy of our re-tweet. And not every Snapchat and text are worthy of our response.
For in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, our minds often take the back seat, and spiritual viruses may be spreading themselves uncontrollably.
In the wise words of the 18th century Sage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern: “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.”
LESSON FIVE: Man plans, G-d Laughs
So says an old Yiddish adage. As we all know, our personal plans are not always fulfilled. Sometimes, we do get ‘stuck in traffic.’ Other times, we receive a phone call that rocks our day.
The coronavirus has destabilized many of us. My dear brother-in-law was recently asked to quarantine himself for 14 days after returning home from a trip to Europe. Personally, I was notified yesterday that a six-day mission of young Jewish Leaders to Riga and Paris, in which I was to assume a role, was canceled.
Yet this disruption of plans teaches us one of the most important secrets to happiness. Every day includes two plans: the plan that we design for ourselves, and the plan that God designs for us. Unfortunately, they are not always synchronized. Sometimes we plan for A, but B happens. But the question then begs itself: how will we respond? Will we bury ourselves in frustration, or will we learn to accept the hidden blessings in God’s unannounced plans?
Viktor Frankl, the famed psychotherapist and bestselling author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” once spoke to his students about our responsibility to heed to life’s calling, even when it clashes with our life-plans. “Don’t ask what you want from life,” he asked them. “Instead, ask what life wants from you, and then you will live happy lives.”
Frankl was right. True happiness can only be achieved when we learn to accept what life wants from us, even when it interferes with our own plans. Some of history’s greatest heroes – from Queen Esther who we are about to celebrate in the story of Purim to Nicholas Winton who was, unexpectedly asked to save 600 children during the holocaust – rose to glory when they heed the call of the unplanned.
And so must we. At times, we may not see the blessings in the unexpected events of life, but we must believe that they exist, and that, one day, we will find within them the laughter of God.