Purim is now behind us, and there sure has been a VeNehafoch Hu. The world that we are living in seems to be totally changed and turned over – but it is hard to see how for the better.
Coronavirus has had a devastating worldwide impact, and according to many scientists and epidemiologists, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Some have dire predictions of millions dying, industries collapsing, and health care systems being overwhelmed with no end in sight.
Just about everyone knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone) who has tested positive for the virus, which so far has no vaccine, although the mortality rate is “only” about three percent. Puts a bit of a damper on the Purim spirit, to put it mildly.
Baruch Hashem, no one in my family or immediate circle of friends has become ill. But my investments have been devastated, many of my neighbors are in quarantine, my son’s plan for visiting Israel for Pesach looks to have been cancelled, most of my plans for activities in the immediate future are tenuous at best, and life feels quite unsettled.
There is undoubtedly plenty of doom and gloom. But since Adar is a time of joy and Pesach is a time of freedom and escape from terrors past, it’s important to find the positive in this crisis. One beautiful perspective I saw in Hebrew several times (but not in English) was circulated by the well-known Torah teacher and journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir, quoting Hani Lifshitz, a Chabad emissary in Kathmandu, Nepal:
All of a sudden, we are required to think deep and hard: Where were we? What route did we take? Who was in our area? Were we in contact with them? How long were we next to those people? Do we remember other people who were near us with whom we might have had even a trifling contact and where that was? Did we shake their hand? Embrace? Did we sit in close proximity?
With a hand on our heart, how many of us stop to think about these things when there is no coronavirus? The days rush by, but suddenly, we must stop. We have to think of how critical it is to remember every detail of our interactions with the people who pass through our lives – how important each encounter is and how nothing is random. How each of those encounters can really affect our lives with potential real long-term significant effects.
Let us not for a moment think that the encounter with those who came our way is unimportant and fleeting. In fact, those brief encounters can penetrate deep into the soul, take root in the soul, and can change our lives from one end to the other, for better or worse. And that effect can infect, the next person, who in turn can affect a third, and their circle of people and so on for better or for worse.
Another perspective comes from Rabbi Moss of Australia, who challenges us to embrace uncertainty:
What will happen next? We don’t know. Our experts don’t know. Our leaders don’t know. Only G-d knows. And that is the point. Only G-d knows.
Close your eyes and feel the uncertainty, make peace with it, let yourself be taken by it. Embrace your cluelessness. Because in all the confusion there is one thing you know for sure. You are in G-d’s hands.
Keep calm. Panic and fear are also contagious. Take every precaution as advised by health authorities. Wash your hands well. And every time you do, remember whose hands you are in.
There are many other perspectives that abound. One of them that speaks to me deeply revolves around the fact that for so many this year, “Next Year in Jerusalem” will be taking on a whole new dose of reality. Many cannot come to Israel this year and will be forced to make Pesach at home – perhaps for the first time in their lives. Feeling the doors to Eretz Yisrael closed may cause some to devote thought to the illusory nature of our comfortable lives in the Diaspora and whether we have reacted properly to Hashem’s incredible gift to us: the opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Ultimately, of course, we have to recognize human limits. Even the greatest of humans, Moshe Rabbeinu, was told that man is not privy to G-d’s plans, and we have to learn to trust that He knows – far better than we could imagine – why what we experience as painful is in fact for the ultimate good.
Let us resolve that going through this experience will end up sobering us to the reality of how little is in our control, how much we depend on each other, and how fragile our existence is.
Perhaps this is the harbinger of the ge’ulah; some have pointed out that the gematria of “corona” is 361, which is the gematria of “Mashiach ba.” In any event, we look forward to Pesach with deep prayers that Hashem once again save us from plagues and natural disasters, and that the gates of Eretz Yisrael swing wide open for all of us to swiftly come home in good health.