Of Cows and Corona
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
I have never seen anything like it.
This is not something that concerns one nation or one interest group, or even just a certain age demographic.
The Coronavirus is affecting EVERYONE.
I have been working from home this week, due to a fever I came down with on Tuesday. It has been strange, there I was, in self-isolation, cut off from the outside world. Yet, due to the wonders of the internet I was fully connected to all that was happening.
In Israel, there are now no gatherings of more than 100, so no davening en masse at the Kotel.
In America – many shuls have closed, so no more minyanim – people have been told to daven at home.
And here in the UK, we are gradually seeing communal life changing.
I am not here to comment on the correct strategy to limit the spread of the virus, suffice to say that NO ONE knows what is going to happen.
So much has been written about what we should focus on, how we should react etc. However, the most powerful thing I read was from Rav Amos Luban, my former teacher in Yerushalayim:
‘The world as a whole has not experienced such a loss of stability and general chaos, probably since world war 2. What is unique now, is that it is happening to our generation, which got so terribly used to a world-order and to global systems that became-in our minds-reality. Man in our times has reached such advanced technology which has produced systems upon system of delusion and falsehood. Consider for example the “sense of control” we get from the experience of having the entire world “under our – computer – fingers” … Our world has evolved greatly, due to technology, into a society that doesn’t know God. “Who needs God, he is nothing but ‘opium for the masses’, we are managing quite well on our own..” ’
I spoke to someone trying to organise Pesach in Europe at a hotel as he has done for the last 10 years. Many of his guests from America are pulling out, so he is not sure what to do, he wrote ‘I don’t want to cancel, but more than ever, one realizes that he is nothing, he controls nothing and has to accept everything’. So sad but so true.
It therefore seems quite apt that this Shabbat we read Parshat Parah, the laws of the red heifer. This is an example of a Halacha which is considered completely above human comprehension. The paradox is that those who are involved in the preparation of the ashes of the cow become ritually impure, while the sprinkling of water with those ashes is used to remove contamination!
It doesn’t make sense – yet we observe, yet we believe.
At the moment, nothing makes sense, the world is upside down, there is fear and there is trepidation.
However, we should be reminded of the red heifer – It doesn’t make sense – yet we observe, we believe.
Regardless of the cancellation of large-scale events and most overseas travel – I will still daven three times a day.
Regardless of the crash in the stock market – I will still observe Shabbat and the Chagim.
Regardless of the uncertainty of the future – I will still learn Torah daily.
Whatever happens in the upcoming days and weeks – and we have no idea – what we do know is that in a month, we will sit down for Seder night all around the world, maybe not in the place where we had planned to have Seder – but we will have Seder – because that world, our world, His world – does not change.
Daf Yomi is on its 14th cycle, it carried on during World War 2, limmud Torah continues, Torah continues. In two months today we have no idea what Coronavirus will have affected globally, yet I know the Jewish world will be learning Shabbat, daf 68.
While the world spins out of control, we must pray for calm and hope that humanity will obtain the ability to limit the reach of the pandemic and we must individually play our part in following our government’s instructions.
However, on a deeper level we must realise that we have the obligation and need to put all world events into a meaningful context. ‘Things don’t happen on their own. History belongs to The One and only and our job is to try and understand what is happening around. Our view is limited, yet we are consistently guided by Torah to retain a profound conviction that History is His. When we internalize this world view, we are able to take a deep breath and live as strong Jews do, even, or especially at times like this.’