I spent the morning of the last day of 2020 sitting in a small medical center waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Many factors went into my decision to be vaccinated so quickly – primarily my professional responsibility to my patients and staff as well as my age and health history, but ultimately it was driven by my resolve to put myself in G-d’s hands.
It sounds simplistic – naïve even – but as I did my research and found that for every pro there was a con, for every yea there was a nay, something had to tip the balance.
As intellectuals, we believe in science. As spiritual beings, we believe in Hashem. However, we are never this or that. We are both – with the knowledge that science is only the messenger and comes from Hashem, making divine wisdom and true scientific wisdom one and the same.
Modern science is a miracle, but we have stopped perceiving it as such as it lacks the shiny wrapping paper of a majestically parted sea; it is presented to us instead in an everyday brown paper bag which we open, not eagerly, but gingerly, suspiciously, and try to decide whether we like its contents or not.
It’s a miracle that requires effort to understand; it requires learning a foreign language, replete with words like spike proteins and mRNA. It’s a miracle that requires accepting the fact that in any scientifically-mediated gift there is a small inherent risk, and there is no guarantee you will cross the proverbial Yam Suf unscathed.
There is a famous parable told about a man drowning in a flood. He climbs to the top of his house and stands on the roof praying for Hashem to save him. A friend comes by in a boat and tells him to hop in. The man says no, he is waiting for Hashem to save him. A police helicopter comes by and again the man refuses help.
Finally the man drowns and goes up to shamayim where he asks Hashem why He didn’t save him. The punchline of course is that Hashem sent help in the guise of the boat and the helicopter, but the man didn’t perceive the yad Hashem in the messengers He sent.
To me, the vaccine is my helicopter. I may find out later that I jumped the gun, that I got into the wrong helicopter at the wrong time, that I should have waited on the roof, davened harder, or taken the ferry instead.
But I walked into this decision with my eyes open. I am aware that we have no idea what the long-term side effects of the vaccine are or how long it confers immunity. I joked with my family and patients that I was going to turn into a turtle – which clearly did not happen. And notwithstanding the 28 hours of side effects I experienced, I’m not sorry I was vaccinated.
One thing that 2020 and the Covid-19 experience has made clear to me is that I am not in charge – that I never was and never will be – and with this knowledge, I took a leap of faith.
Getting vaccinated is not the right decision for everyone, and my intention in writing this article is not to pressure anyone to receive the vaccine. Perhaps if I were younger, healthier, and not seeing patients who are inches away from my face with their masks inevitably slipping below their nose, I would have made a different choice. Perhaps if I had better emunah, better bitachon – if I were a more pious Jew – I would have waited for yad Hashem to tap me on the shoulder and tell me definitively how to proceed.
It is my fervent hope, though, that this vaccination is indeed the yeshuah we are seeking and that someday soon I can hug my mother, hold my patients’ hands, and see everyone’s beautiful faces once again.