A few weeks ago, before Coronavirus dominated the headlines, life was pretty normal…
Oh, how things have changed!!!
A seemingly small and insignificant ailment has somehow set off a heavy-handed, global response. Governments throughout the world are implementing a series of increasingly militant, often bizarre regulations and laws that can (and do) change by the day.
Here in Israel at the moment:
- International flights are being restricted or canceled outright
- Gatherings of over ten people are prohibited
- Those arriving from other countries must enter a two-week quarantine period before being “released” into the country.
- Those who were in an area where an infected person was must be in solitary confinement for a two-week period— even if they had no personal contact with the individual. Those staying in solitary confinement must stay in a closed room, and are prohibited from leaving the house or coming into contact with other people. If they leave their homes, they can receive a jail sentence of up to seven years!
- The first two rows of seats on buses are being blocked off
- Shaking hands is now discouraged in favor of the Indian “namaste” greeting
- Schools are now closed until further notice.
- Those out in public or at work are encouraged to maintain a distance of two meters between them and others around them. Seventy percent of government employees will be asked to work from home.
- There is also talk of a nation-wide lock down, where everyone would be confined to their homes.
Coronavirus Comes from Hashem; not China
One of the most fundamental beliefs we have in Yiddishkeit is that Hashem runs the world. No one can so much as lift a finger without Hashem willing it.
Another is that everything Hashem does is for the good— even if we can’t see or feel that good at the moment. Whenever we are faced with adversity, Hashem is really giving us the opportunity to create a vessel to receive all kinds of brocha, refuah, parnassa, yeshuas, and nachas from our children, among other things.
Regardless of whether or not Coronavirus actually requires such as strong response, Hashem speaks to us through the situations we find ourselves in, and this situation is certainly no different…
But even if Hashem is speaking, we have to be willing to listen.
So, what is Hashem trying to tell us over here?
According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita, it’s a call for Jews to strengthen themselves in Shmiras Halashon (refraining from negative or hurtful speech) and humility.
What this really means is making the effort to eradicate sinas chinum (baseless hatred).
Interestingly, the one common theme throughout all of the governmental rules and regulations being imposed on us this very moment is isolation (בידוד). People are being isolated and separated from each other and even the worldly activities that routinely occupied their time.
And, I think this is a very significant point.
We know that Hashem rules His world mida caneged mida, measure for measure.
According to kabbalistic sources, Clal Yisroel is one spiritual entity. Though we are a nation of individuals, all of our souls are really bound together without separation. This inner oneness exists whether or not it is acknowledged, and it affects all Jews at every moment. When one Jew is b’simcha, all Jews are on some level b’simcha. When one Jew suffers, we all suffer.
We know that the Second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinum (Yoma 9b). Sinas chinum creates discord, which strengthens the illusion of separation. When we act as though we are separate from one another, we shatter the vessel, so to speak, that “houses” Hashem’s Presence in this world on a national level. When Hashem’s Presence could no longer dwell among us, the Beis Hamikdash no longer needed to stand.
Chazal tell us that the biggest area where sinas chinum manifests itself is lashon hara.
In Parshas Tazaria and Metzora, the Torah describes the characteristics and laws of Tzaraas. While this ailment could afflict a person’s clothing, possessions, and house, it’s most well-known as an affliction of the skin.
But, tzaraas is not a regular disease; it’s a clear physical manifestation of a spiritual deficiency– one that Chazal say comes specifically as a consequence of loshon hara (Arachin 16b)
The Torah says that someone who has been diagnosed as having tzaraas on their skin, must cover themselves from head to toe, go outside the boundaries of the camp and shout “Contaminated!” to anyone who comes near them. The punishment is measure for measure: Since the metzora promoted divisiveness among others, this individual is thus separated from community as well as the normal pursuits of daily life.
There are many sources that talk about the negative and divisive effects of speaking lashon hara. Here are just a few:
- The Chofetz Chaim teaches that lashon hara kills three people: the one who listens, the one who speaks, and the subject of the conversation.
- Negative speech is even worse than a sword, since it kills many people, even at great distance (Arachin 15b).
- For three transgressions one forfeits his portion in olam habah: murder, adultery, and idol worship. And, lashon hara is equivalent to all three (Arachin 15b).
- Lashon hara led to numerous tragedies for the Jewish people: the exile in Egypt (Rashi Shemos 2:14); the massacre of kohanim in the city of Nov (Shmuel 22:9); and the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash (Gitten 55a,b)
Lessons for Pesach
The metzora’s time in isolation is meant to be one of introspection, cheshbon hanefesh, and teshuva.
This applies to us as well… even for those of us who are stuck at home with the kids, while trying to work remotely and clean for Pesach!!!
Even a few minutes of reflection can help to give us some much-needed prospective and focus for the weeks ahead.
The truth is, though the Coronavirus saga has been around for a few weeks, all of these messages neatly tie into the lessons of Pesach.
Chazal tell us that the word Pharoh (פרעה) is a contraction of “peh” and “rah” (פה רע)– a bad mouth. In Mitzrayim, there were Jews who spoke negatively about each other, creating discord. There were also Jews who had succumbed to yeush (depression), and spoke negatively about Hashem and His servant, Moshe Rabbeinu as well as the harsh servitude that dominated their lives. This only prolonged their exile, as mentioned above, and made the experience of it even harder to bear.
The antidote to this is “peh-sach,” a “mouth that speaks” words of emuna, keddusha, and praises of Hashem. Another hint to the theme of positive, holy speech, is in the word Haggadah ( הַגָּדָה) which means “telling.”
According to the Sefas Emes, before the redemption from Mitzrayim, the Jewish people were spiritually and emotionally blocked. They had a hard time believing in Hashem or in the promised redemption and were thus unable to use their speech positively. They were under the influence of Pharoh; their mouths, so to speak, were in galus.
Only later, through the exodus from Mitzrayim, when they were reminded that Hashem does indeed run the world and sustain everything in it, were their mouths opened, and they were able to sing and praise Hashem out loud.
Here’s a thought-provoking comment an anonymous person made about the response to Coronavirus:
Imagine if people were just as concerned and panicked about the “lashon hara virus” as they are about the coronavirus!
Imagine if people would not go to places that are usually filled with people who speak lashon hara.
Imagine if people would walk away quickly from those who are in the middle of speaking lashon hara.
Imagine if people would mask their mouths and not spew lashon hara or receive lashon hara.
Imagine if people would …make all kinds of precautions to avoid being in the presence of lashon hara.
Lashon hara is more deadly – more contagious – more easily spread – more widely spread – than coronavirus!
…But, it’s cure brings life and connection– in this world and the next.