Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, has been occupying everyone’s thoughts. I’d like to share with you, dear readers, some of my musings on these scary times.

First, I’ve noticed an acute difference in the reactions of people who own smartphones versus those who don’t. People who own smartphones are bombarded every minute by new, and mostly grim, updates, such as “Italy is quarantining 16 million people,” “Israel cancels El Al flight from New York,” “New deadly mutation of the coronavirus appears.” Etc., Etc. They read constant messages of doom that seep into their very pores.

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Those who don’t own smartphones, in contrast, are mostly living their lives normally and are surprised at the alarm and fright on others’ faces. They say, “It’s just like the flu, right? What’s all the hype?”

Neither reaction, though, is warranted by the facts. A regular bombardment of doom and gloom can have a corrosive effect on a person’s psyche (especially a child’s psyche). It thus is probably advisable to limit one’s viewing of news bulletins to just once or twice daily.

On the other hand, it’s important to take precautions. Following the lead of the CDC, Hatzolah, and many senior rabbis, I ascended the pulpit last Shabbos and made an announcement that in my almost four decades as a rabbi, I never thought I’d have to make: I asked people to desist from shaking each other’s hands.

The personal connection imparted with a “Good Shabbos” or “Shalom Aleichem” handshake is a big part of the shul experience. I remember Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, wouldn’t just shake your hand; he would take it between his two hands and hug it. Sadly, for the immediate future, we will have to abstain from this pleasure. Instead, we will have to replace it with a deeper smile and a more meaningful “Good Shabbos.”

I also said that desisting from shaking hands alone is a mere token gesture. If we are all going to continue using the same tissue boxes and not wash our hands with soap regularly, we’re not going to accomplish much. We must take v’nishmartem meod es nafshoseichem seriously.

Here’s another thought: The phrase, “It’s good to be young,” has never been so true. The virus seems to be excusing youth, which means our young men and women have a tremendous opportunity to do chesed and bikur cholim. They can become personal shoppers for those who are quarantined. They can offer all kinds of services to the elderly and the immune-compromised who cannot safely mingle with the masses. It’s a golden opportunity.

Remember that the Gemara tells us that a person who helps the sick is saved from Gehenom and suffering, will have good friends, and make people feel honored to be in his presence.

I have many more thoughts to share and will do so next week. In the meantime, don’t forget to pray with kavanah, learn Torah, give tzedakah, and do teshuvah. In that merit, may we all be protected from the coronavirus. May those who are ill recover, and may Hashem bless all of us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss is rav of the Agudath Yisroel of Staten Island. A popular writer and lecturer his Torah column appears weekly in The Jewish Press. Learn mishnayos with Rabbi Weiss by dialing 718-906-6471 or Orchos Chaim l’HaRosh by dialing 718-906-6400 (selection 4 twice). To engage Rabbi Weiss as a lecturer or to order his “Power Bentching,” call 718-916-3100 or e-mail RMMWSI@aol.com. To receive a weekly tape or CD from him, send a check to Rabbi Weiss, P.O. Box 140726, Staten Island, NY 10314, or e-mail him. Attend Rabbi Weiss’s weekly shiur at the Landau Shul (Avenue L and East 9th), Tuesday nights, at 9:30 p.m. Some of his shiurim are available on his Facebook page and TorahAnyTime.com. Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes his articles.