By Simcha Steinhauer…
Thousands of people are in quarantine for 14 days – not because they are known to have the corona virus, but simply because of a concern that they may have contracted the virus. Do we find a precedent in the Torah that people are quarantined simply on a concern that they may be infected?
Indeed we do.
In parashas Tazria we find (Leviticus 13:4 -5) that the Kohen will quarantine a suspected metzora for seven days and then if necessary for a further seven days. 14 days of quarantine because of a concern that he may have tzaraas.
Not only are people in quarantine, huge parts of the world have gone into lockdown – schools closed, public gatherings prohibited, travel bans etc. A tiny micro-organism has brought the world to its knees – jobs have been lost, trillions of dollars have been wiped out on stock exchanges around the world, goods are unobtainable because factories have been closed etc. What is the message that H-m is sending to the world?
Perhaps one of the messages that H-m is telling the world is this – you, human beings, in your arrogance, think that with all your scientific knowledge, technological skills, medical advances, artificial intelligence and the like, you run the world and you can manage everything without Me. So I will send you a tiny micro-organism with potentially fatal consequences and let us see what you can do about it. And so far, clearly, the world can do nothing about it other than to go into complete hysteria and panic mode. So H-m is making it very clear that He is running the world and Man, with all his science and technology, is helpless against a tiny virus.
Is there a precedent for this situation too – namely that H-m can defeat human arrogance with a tiny creation of His?
Indeed there is.
In tractate Gittin, 56b, we find the Roman general (later Emperor) Titus challenging Hashem: Titus says:
“It seems to me that the power of G-d of [the Jews] is only in water….If He is truly powerful, let Him come up on dry land and wage war with me [there]. A Heavenly voice came forth and said to [Titus]: “O evil man, the son of an evil man ….I have a puny creature in My world and it is called a gnat. Go up on dry land and fight [it]. When Titus ascended to dry land, a gnat came and entered his nose. It picked at his brain for seven years…” The great general Titus was helpless in the face of a tiny creature sent by H-m – the gnat eventually caused the death of Titus. H-m can bring down the arrogant and mighty with tiny creatures – He does not need to use massive shows of force in the form of cataclysmic natural forces (hurricanes, tsunamis etc).
How is the world reacting to the message? The nations see the virus as a physical phenomenon that calls for a physical response. So every one is racing to find a vaccine. But Jews with knowledge of Torah know that we must look behind the physical manifestation to the spiritual cause. And therefore the remedy has to be spiritual, not physical. Does the Torah provide us with the solution?
Indeed it does.
In parashas Beshallach (Exodus 15:26) the Torah tells us the following:
“He [Hashem] said: If you hearken diligently to the voice of H-m, your G-d, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed on Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am H-m, your Healer”.
Egypt in this context is non-specific; it means the non-Jews in general.
So the message to us is clear. We must “hearken diligently to the voice of H-m, our G-d, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees.” Indeed, the renowned tsaddik and Kabbalist, Hagaon HaRav Gamliel Rabinovitch is reported to have said that if one wants to be protected from the corona virus one should not talk in shul and one should attend minyanim three times a day. Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky is reported to have said one should recite Psalm 142 daily.
Rav Avihu Levy pointed out that the second verse in last week’s parasha , Ki Sisa, says the following:
“When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give H-m an atonement for his soul (kofer nafsho) when counting them, so that there will not be a plague (negef) among them….” The atonement for his soul (kofer nafsho) in today’s times would be giving tzedakah. If one gives tzedakah, there will not be a plague (negef). Note that the Hebrew word for virus is negif.
As always, the true remedy when troubles come upon the Jewish people is tefillah, teshuva and tzedakah.
H-m is calling out to us to respond appropriately. We should not keep Him waiting.