I know, my title is a head-scratcher. What possible connection could a deadly virus, a TV show about a devil, and free will have?
Let’s start with the devil.
Lucifer Morningstar is the ‘warden’ of hell, where those who have been judged as evil are sent for punishment. Tired and bored of being stuck there for thousands of centuries, this fallen angel plays hooky and goes to Los Angeles, (ironically the City of Angeles in Spanish) where he opens up an upscale night club.
Eventually he links up with a female homicide detective after a popular singer whose career Lucifer helped launch, is murdered. His out-of-the-box methodology in solving the case, and others, leads to his partnering with the detective.
On several occasions, the perpetrator, when caught, disowns responsibility for the murder he committed, protesting that the ‘devil made me do it.’ This statement enrages and infuriates Lucifer, because he insists that every human has free will – and that they can choose to do good or evil. He is the punisher of evil, and not the cause of it. Humankind has choice.
This freedom to choose is immediately apparent in Gan Eden. Hashem forbids Adam and Chava to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge. Yet even though they know it is wrong, they still do. They shift blame on the smooth-talking snake that influenced them, but ultimately exercised their G-d-given free will.
In Devarim (perek 30:19), Hashem states, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse – therefore choose life.” The key word here is “choose.”
Which leads to Covid. The last worldwide pandemic to hit the global population was the Spanish Flu, over 100 years ago. Over the last few months, I’ve asked myself why a pandemic now – and for over two years? My conclusion may be totally off the mark, and I don’t pretend to know the real “why,” but the way I see it, Covid is a spiritual reminder of the ten days that include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
During this period, Jews take a sober look at our lives and actions, and we acknowledge our failings, bad behaviors, and the activities that don’t mesh with a Torah lifestyle. We know we are being judged, and are terrified of the justice that we have merited.
We repent, fast, and beat our chests multiple times saying Al Chait, repenting for the sin of…. for the transgression of…. and we beg that we be written in the Book of Life.
Sadly, our sincerity to improve ourselves ethically does not last, and by the end of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, our ‘New Year’ resolutions fizzle and many are back to their old ways. We take advantage emotionally, physically and financially of those we perceive are vulnerable. We bully, we belittle, we mock family, students, employees, colleagues, spiritual leaders, people in shul, and service people like waiters, or salespeople.
In doing so, we break several of the Ten Commandments. Humiliating someone is viewed as a form of murder. I believe undermining someone’s self-esteem and belief in one’s value is thievery, for their future potential is stolen.
Many naive and trusting people were robbed of their ability to trust or form healthy relationships because of chronic verbal or emotional abuse. Hence as many mental health experts point out, a very negative self-image can prevent someone from taking ‘risks’ such as getting married; asking for a well deserved raise or promotion – because they sadly believe they are unworthy or incompetent – or not being able to say no under pressure, financially or worse.
Covid perhaps has been a two year reminder, as opposed to a ten day one starting with Rosh Hashana – and forgotten weeks later – that extreme illness, disability or death can happen suddenly. And perhaps people have been constantly reminded, as they look at the devastating toll the virus has taken, to do a chesbon hanfesh and own their sins, leading to a personal tikkun (repair) and a determination to discontinue their toxic ways.
In Lucifer, Hell is a time loop where the person ‘relives’ the worst moments of their life, over and over again. Sort of like the movie Ground Hog’s Day. The only way out of this torment is to accept responsibility and blame for your actions, and by doing so, releasing suppressed guilt. Only then can one move on to heaven. (It’s an interesting premise, but I don’t think this would work for true psychopaths and narcissists who are incapable of feeling guilt or remorse.)
Lucifer is a TV show, and in no way do I feel its writers have the answers to what the afterlife is, but what resonated with me was they were actually talking about the power of teshuva, which can only happen if you recognize you did wrong – and not rationalizing or justifying your actions . For example, “My never married sister doesn’t need the money I borrowed years ago, she doesn’t have to pay for tuition and weddings like I do.” Or, “If she had dinner ready when I came home, I wouldn’t have to yell at her and shove her.” Or saying their yetzer harah was too strong – the ‘devil’ made me do it.”
Hashem gifted us with free will. Covid perhaps is a timely reminder of this reality and an incentive for genuine tikkun.