Is it proper to panic over the coronavirus epidemic?
Absolutely not! It is proper, and indeed our responsibility, to do everything to protect ourselves and everyone around us from anything that can be detrimental to our health. We are obligated to listen to medical authorities and follow their guidelines. That’s how Hashem set up life. He created laws that govern nature, empowered doctors to be His messengers of healing, and instructed us to abide by their advice (“v’rapeh ye’rapeh”).
At the same time, we do so not because the natural world – or science and medicine – has its own self-contained power, G-d forbid. Its effectiveness comes from heaven. At the end of the day, G-d is the only healer (“ani Hashem rofecha”), and He has allowed experts to serve as His agents of healing.
Thus, in addition to all our “natural” interventions, we should turn our eyes and prayers to G-d, and place our complete trust in Him that He will provide healing and salvation and bless medical officials with the wisdom and resources to fulfill their mission.
We should subject our physical health to health professionals but subject our minds, hearts, and souls to G-d and recognize that our spiritual health is nourished by a connection to the Divine above.
There is therefore no room for panic or hysteria. No person on earth – no doctor, politician, or layperson – controls our destiny. Therefore, even if they express fear and hopelessness, they have no power to determine the outcome of our health. Only G-d determines that.
We place ourselves in G-d’s hands and have complete trust that He will protect and heal us. This trust comes together with prudent action, but should never lose its potency, regardless of circumstances.
– Rabbi Jacobson, renowned
Lubavitch author and lecturer
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There is panic and there is carefulness. Carefulness is certainly the proper choice, and people must act according to all of the instructions of the official authorities.
Panic must be avoided at all costs. Panic is a thoughtless reaction, as if everything is lost, as if G-d has lost control over His world, and this is not the case at all. Hashem is very much here in the world that He created for us, and it is He who created the coronavirus, a creation most unique, 125 nanometer (one billionth of a millimeter) in size, comprising 30,000 elements.
This enemy knows how to kidnap the strength, blood, and protein of a human in order to multiply and grow and spread from place to place. This creature did not give birth to itself, nor does it survive on its own. It is a divine creation in the same way the manna is a divine creation. A divine creation which prompts us to combat and destroy it, just as we are commanded to annihilate Amalek from the world.
There is no contradiction in this. G-d wants the people of the world, all of humanity combined, to work together to defeat this new enemy. He desires our unity. He wants us all to take part in the battle, and to understand that we are all a part of the universal family of man.
And, as Jews, we must rise to the challenge and care for the wellbeing of our own nation and of all mankind. For without caring for one another, the epidemic will spread out of control. And if we are caring, and careful, we will surely merit to see the coronavirus defeated without claiming more victims on the planet that we all share together.
– Rabbi Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzefas
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It is hard not to panic since the response and countermeasures have been exactly what would have been prescribed had we been told to panic, and panic quickly! But, as the Beach Boys once sang, “cool heads and warm hearts” should govern our reaction.
That’s because panic leads to irrational thinking and impetuous moves that tend to exacerbate the problem. Both the WHO and Johns Hopkins have reported that most people who are in the presence of the infected will not become infected themselves (as contagious as the virus is) and 80 percent of the infected will have “no or mild symptoms” of the virus, which will in any event pass after a few days.
Those with underlying medical conditions that compromise their health are the most vulnerable and should be extra cautious in their public interactions. But they too need not panic.
Above all, we are a nation grounded in its faith in G-d. We are only asked to do our hishtadlut – our very best and considered efforts to avoid contamination and transmission – and trust in G-d’s infinite compassion. We live in a world with ubiquitous dangers – from terror to sudden illness to accidents. We always rely on He who is “shomer peta’im” (Tehillim 116:6), who “preserves the simple” from unknown hazards in ways that we do not fully recognize or appreciate.
We should not minimize the crisis nor be cavalier in our response. We should not think that any of us are immune from illness and therefore exempt from any restrictions on our lives. But we should apply our reason and faith to this situation and all others, follow the guidelines of the officials and rabbis, and know that in a short time, gam zu yaavor – this too shall pass.
– Rabbi Pruzansky, mara d’asra of
Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ
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It’s never proper to panic. As believers, we must remember Hashem controls the world, while also obligating us to use our free will. We who cannot be sure what level of Providence we merit currently, are obligated, individually, communally, and nationally, to act as is prudent within our understanding of nature, as if nature operated on its own, while also remembering our lives are in Hashem’s hands.
The idea cuts both ways: We can be protected from this virus, no matter what, if Hashem wants, and we can become ill or worse, rahmana litzlan, no matter what, if Hashem wants. Knowing Hashem’s role in all this should always mean we should never panic.
Sometimes, we have to take sad measures – close a shul, postpone a wedding, eat on Yom Kippur – in reaction to a plague, but we should never panic. As R. Binyamin Samuels of Newton recently quoted his rebbe, R. Meyer Juzint, a Slabodka alumnus and Holocaust survivor, as saying: We do what we do, and Hashem will take care of the rest.
The balance is hard to find when no one knows enough to make confident decisions, and when the cases we will see in the days and weeks to come often stemmed from the period before we were taking any social distancing measures. Experts tell us we need to “flatten the curve,” to slow the spread, to relieve overburdened hospitals, to allow the development of vaccines and treatments, and maybe to allow warm weather to impede the virus’ spread.
We do what we can and also remind ourselves that our lives are – always, although perhaps we now see it more than usual – in Hashem’s hands. And, either way, we trust that Hashem works out history, communal and national, as best for each of us, within the framework of the choices we make.
– Rabbi Rothstein, author, regular
contributor to www.Torahmusings.com