Purim 5780 will be forever associated with the dreaded Coronavirus. With its “crowns” and “masks”, its dangers and threats, it is highly reminiscent of the story of Purim. Nor does it seem that, like the Angel of Death in the story of the Exodus, it will miraculously “pass over” our homes by Pesach. So what exactly is in store for us and the world at large?
We do not know. But we do know that like the stories of Purim and Pesach, great events not simply accidental misfortunes or pieces of good luck which just happen. They are the result of Divine decrees. Dever – a plague – is related to the word daber – to speak. God is speaking to us. His message may not always be clear, but strewn among the confusion, stress, anxiety, jokes and black humor, there are illuminating sparks of light, divine clues to direct us. Since nothing God decrees is “bad” – Kol d’avid Rachmana l’tav avid hu – everything He does is for the ultimate Good – we ask ourselves what good can result from something so seemingly “bad”?
QUARANTINE, LOCK DOWN, SECLUSION … BIDUD in Hebrew. From the word l’vad … alone. We are an Am l’vadad yishkon – a nation which lives apart. But as Jews, we must live together. We belong to families, communities. We come together in congregations to celebrate, mourn, pray. We are rarely alone. Rov am b’hadras melech – the glory of God is seen in our multitudes. But if we are always together, when do we have time to think, evaluate, assess? Suddenly, we are being forced into seclusion. What a wonderful opportunity! Solitary Bidud becomes personal Hisbodedus – contemplation and introspection.
FAMILIES – THE FOUNDATION OF THE NATION: The Family is the solid rock upon which the Jewish nation rests, but today the traditional family is under severe attack. Even in our circles, great changes have occurred. Mothers are out working; kids are away at school for long hours and then kept busy with endless after-hours activities, cell phones and computers. Summers are for going away to camp. Holidays challenge us with more work, expense, hassle and pressure. Our lives add up to a lot of stress.
That’s why we need vacations so often – Pesach vacations, summer vacations, Chanuka vacations, week-end getaways and whatever other mini-vacations we can arrange. Going Away has become big business. Even Pesach, the ultimate family time, means “going away” for large parts of the population. The massive cancellations of Pesach vacations this year due to Corona pose an enormous challenge to many families. They also pose a threat to the harmony and tranquility of many Jewish homes. (One young mother I met bemoaned the fact that due to the general shutdown of air travel, she will be forced to stay home and actually make Pesach this year.) Even families who celebrate at home try to “get out” the moment chol hamoed begins. Perhaps this year, thanks to the danger of large gatherings, we’ll reset our mental computers and relish the blessing of “staying in” with the people we love the most. We might even find some of that “quality time” everyone dreams of.
V’SHINANTEM L’VANECHA…. You shall teach your children: Although the Torah originally commanded fathers to teach their children, this responsibility was long ago relegated to outside sources called schools. But now that our schools have closed (hopefully only temporarily!) who will do the teaching? Are the kids to run wild or stay glued to computers and cell phones for weeks at a time? Will they – and we – survive?
Guess what… not only can we survive, we can even thrive. Parents might try their hand at a bit of teaching, even if they aren’t as accomplished as professional teachers and the kids learn less than in a regular classroom. And without the pressure to complete, compete, and succeed, everyone may be happier and more relaxed, the beneficiaries of a different system of education.
BUY, BUY BUY: Shop ‘til you drop? Yes indeedy, we do. All the time. The media tells us what we need and we hurry out to buy it. The mall has become our playground. We work hard to pay for life’s necessities, and then we work a lot more to pay for the “toys” we need to help us relax after all our work! But suddenly, when so many non-essential stores are closing and people are being told to stay close to home, there is less opportunity and less pressure to spend and buy. To our surprise, we find that we can manage very nicely with less. It doesn’t even hurt!
HOW MANY PEOPLE? Inside of two weeks, public gatherings (indoors) in Israel were reduced from 5000 people to 1000 to 100 to 10. TEN? Did you ever make a party, or a bar mitzvah, or a wedding for ten people? Halls and hotels closed down in mass and thousands of weddings were held in abeyance. But you can’t keep Am Yisrael down. Families, neighbors and friends got to work. Homemade- Outdoor weddings sprung up like wildflowers in gardens and on the streets, on rooftops and mirpasot (porches). Guitars, accordians, drums and flutes provided the music for the neighborhood celebrations. Dinners for hundreds of guests have become things of the past. Seudot are now strictly immediate-family-only affairs. Amazingly, the reduced numbers seem to add up to increased simcha.
AM L’VADAD YISHKON: Here in Israel, we are presently closed in. An invisible wall surrounds us. Flights into and out of the country have been cancelled; the airport is, for all practical purposes, shut down. We have truly become an Am l’vadad yishkon. Thanks to our enforced “isolation”, we are being forced to focus inward. Corona is a wonderful teacher. One of the unexpected results of our new restrictions is that for the first time since the establishment of the State, and for the duration of this crisis, there will be no public transportation on Shabbat. Let us hope the Corona crisis ends quickly but the unique status of Shabbat remains a permanent decree.
When the gentile prophet Bilam called us an Am l’vadad yishkon, he did not intend to bless us. Yet that is exactly what he did. He inadvertently described who we are – a nation which, like our father Abraham, stands alone, on the opposite side of the “river” of nations. Yet we are never “alone”. We stand in the shadow of our Father in Heaven, King of all kings. And we are blessed and secure in His embrace.
World leaders think of themselves as powerful kings, rulers of their, and our, fate. So God has sent them an unseen, miniscule “crown” called Corona to show them, once again, how little control they have. They are but unknowing messengers for the King of Kings. All this leads us to hope that the seclusions, confinements, quarantines and isolation will lead us on the path to higher levels of harmony, unity and love.
May all those who are ill have a Refuah Shleima and may this “plague” cleanse, purify and pass over us quickly, “crowning” us just in time for the upcoming Redemption. Chag Pesach Kasher v’Sameach.