Experts are guiding us that the key to slowing down, if not stopping, the spread of this virus is social distancing, a term and a practice that should be an anathema to us. We generally draw strength from togetherness and unity and yet, during these extraordinary times, the best way to show that we are together is to be willing to remain apart.
However, while we are distancing, God is breaking quarantine everywhere. In difficult moments and crises like these, we have a choice to make. We can focus on this horrific virus, those it has struck, and wonder, “Where is God?” or we can look at how we are collectively responding, keep an eye on the extraordinary things that are happening, and find Him everywhere.
God is found through His heroic angels, the doctors, nurses and custodians caring for people in hospitals and nursing homes. He is found through the network of special volunteers, His angels who are eager to check in on the homebound and deliver provisions to the vulnerable. You can see Him through the generosity of those angels digging deep into their own pockets to ensure that those hit hardest can continue to be safe and taken care of.
These acts of kindness, this attitude of cooperation and collaboration, these gestures of selflessness are indeed expressions of Godliness, come from the spirit of God that is found within each and every one of us.
God is also found in the blessings He continues to bestow upon us, even during these challenging times. He can be found through the technology which enables us to remain in touch, to videoconference hundreds around the world. He can be found through apps, websites and emails that empower us to continue learning Torah together and to pray together, to sing together, prepare for Shabbos together and to learn how to prepare for Passover together.
Make no mistake, even during this outbreak, God can still be found in the rising and setting of the sun, in the beautiful trees and plants, in the intricate ordinary functions of the human body.
Indeed, God can be found in literally each and every breath that we take. The book of Psalms concludes with the sentence, Kol Ha’Neshama tehalleil Kah, every soul must praise God. Our rabbis (Midrash Rabbah) tell us, don’t read it as kol ha’neshama, every soul, but kol ha’neshima, with each breath, we must praise God.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains that as long as a person has breath in his lungs, as long as we can still speak, we must never stop recognizing God everywhere and we must continuously praise Him.
The Chasam Sofer has a beautiful, and particularly timely explanation. He says, kol ha’neshima means praise God not with every breath, but because of every breath we take. A healthy person breathes 12 – 20 times a minute and doesn’t think about it even once. Breathing is a natural, automated action. We take it for granted and not only expect the next breath to come; we don’t even think about it. And yet, there are countless factors, intricate mechanics that are necessary for each breath.
The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system; it makes it difficult for those who have it to breathe, even forcing some to be placed on a ventilator.
This virus should remind us that there is nothing ordinary, predictable or expected about breathing. We aren’t entitled to this great gift and blessing, and so kol ha’neshima, with each and every breath we take, we should acknowledge, thank and sing praise to God.
God is not quarantined; He isn’t distancing Himself from any of us. In fact, He can be found all around us, through His angels, through the blessings we receive and through each breath we take.
While physically distancing is what is necessary to remain safe, drawing close to God at this time is what we need to not only survive, but to thrive, spiritually. God doesn’t quarantine, He never needs a hazmat suit and being near Him doesn’t pose a threat or danger. You can shake His hand and lean in to feel His hug, welcoming His embrace.
As we work to stop coronavirus, let’s make a concerted effort to pay attention to God all around us, within us and through us. Let’s be His angels to help others, let’s pause to thank Him for the blessings we still have and let’s pray with all our concentration and might that He bring only good health and safety for all of us.