Author’s Note: This article was written for the April, 2020 issue of the The Scroll.
It’s 10:20 on a Wednesday morning. I am sitting in my recliner with my Chromebook on my lap writing this article. My cell phones are two feet to my right on a little table and the prettiest girl in the world is sitting in her recliner to my left. What could be better?
Of course, there is more to the story. We are in the middle of a pandemic. As of this morning, based on an article on the New York Times website, there are 53,934 cases in the United States with 728 fatalities. I myself am home because I may have been exposed nine days ago (I found out yesterday) and am in quarantine for another 5 days until a full 14 days have passed from my exposure. It is a scary time. All the experts say that this will get worse before it gets better. This is a time for everyone to be careful, practice “social distancing” (more on this in a minute), wash our hands and basically do everything we can to limit physical proximity to anyone who may have this virus in their systems. We just got a postcard in the mail from the CDC with “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” that says, for the most part, what I just did. For all intents and purposes, the message is: stay home as much as you can.
Of course, this is the WORST time for us for this to happen. How much Pesach shopping do we have to do? And it’s more than food. Who doesn’t want a new dress or suit for Yom Tov? How about a haircut? There are tons of things we want and feel that we need to do and we are being told to stop and stay home?? How is this possible?
Well, I am already seeing multiple emails from major rabbinic authorities with practical advice on many issues. For the most part, the message is to put health above all. Yes, we have to shop and we have to clean but we do not have to go crazy. Many people turn Pesach into a massive spring cleaning exercise. Couches are moved and every spec of dust anywhere in the house is attacked with the furor of a D-Day invasion. The Rabbis are saying that this is not a time for excesses. This year, we have other concerns.
Let me be clear, I am not telling you what to do Halachically. If you have any questions regarding how to sell your Chametz, what you absolutely have to clean or get rid of, I will refer you to Rabbi Weinbach. I am getting at a different point.
You see, somehow our world went crazy. I am not sure exactly when it happened but somewhere along the line polarization became the rule. Whether in religion or politics, we have become more and more extreme in our differences. For all too many years, I have been getting emails with the latest “Chumra (stringency) of the month.” It’s almost as if there is an idea out there that in order to properly serve G-d we have to go to extremes. The stricter we are, the more restrictions we place on ourselves, the more favorably G-d will view us.
Maimonides certainly would disagree with this approach. He wrote a definitive encyclopedia of Jewish law called Mishneh Torah. The work is broken into multiple sections. The second section is called Hilchos De’us or “Laws of Human Dispositions.” He starts out by describing many different personality types and personal tendencies and then states: “The two extremes in each and every tendency is not a good way, and it is not proper for a man to follow them, nor to have himself instructed in them…” (1:3) “The straight path is the mean disposition found in each and every tendency of all the human tendencies…” (1:4) In other words, moderation is all.
Somehow, we have lost this idea. Extremes are the rule of the day. I have many times written my concerns about this tendency in these pages. However, I think this time the message is coming from a place much more authoritative than me.
Before I go any further, let me say this: Anyone who tells you why G-d is doing something is either a fool or a charlatan. No one can know why G-d does anything. Unless someone is willing to share G-d’s phone number and a verified transcript of the conversation in which G-d gave them the particular insight they are sharing with us, I will not believe it.
Having said that, I do believe that it is incumbent upon us to take a step back and ask us why G-d does things and see what meaning we can glean from events. We cannot say that we know definitively what He means, but we can try to gain what understanding we can. So, what follows is just what I am taking away from current events as they unfold.
It seems to me that the primary effect so far of the Coronavirus, beyond the sickness, is the massive effect it is having on the world socially. The only way we can combat this scourge right now is to physically distance ourselves from each other. This has had an incredible effect. While people are physically distancing from each other, I see people reaching out more to each other. They’re calling, skyping, texting, Facebooking, and using all kinds of ways to maintain that connection. As my niece told me the other day, it’s not “social distancing” but “physical distancing.” Rabbis are making concessions and moderating approaches to Pesach in response to the health crisis and even political opponents are working better together although not nearly as much as they should if you ask me. Perhaps, this is exactly what G-d is telling us. Extremes keep us apart and unity is what G-d wants. He wants us to live together in peace and harmony. Never forget that the last blessing in the Birkat Kohanim asks “May Hashem lift His face to you and give you peace.” Peace is not only Hashem’s ultimate blessing, but it is also the basis for all other blessings.
On Pesach, we will get together in our homes and celebrate the Seder. We will tell the story of the plagues of Egypt as we hunker down to combat the plague of our times. It may seem dark outside but never lose sight of the light that Hashem is in this world. He has given us many gifts. Let’s bask in his love and lavish as much love as we can on those around us. Don’t distance yourself from those you love. Be apart physically if you must, but keep in touch. We must face this together: that is how we will come out on the other side stronger than ever before.
Chana and I send you all our love and we wish you a Chag Kasher V’Sameach!