THE CROWN OF ALL VIRUSES

The Talmud teaches that questions are asked, and lectures are given on the laws of Passover thirty days prior to the festival. Finding ourselves within that time frame,  I cannot help but focus on the ninth plague that led to our ancestors’ liberation from enslavement and exodus from Egypt, that of darkness. I do so because there is a plague of darkness, that casts a giant shadow over the world at this very moment. As a result, no different than the Egyptians of biblical days, an entire population is currently paralyzed by fear. Contrary to what we have been fed by the media, the greatest casualty of Coronavirus has not been those who succumbed to the illness, but rather those who have succumbed to clear thinking and logic. Statistically, more people die from the  Influenza virus (also known as the Flu) each year, than those who have died after contracting Corona Virus. Yet, the Flu has not caused citizens of the world to panic. Moreover, those who decline the flu shot, are not shunned by society for living with abandon and recklessly putting the lives of others at risk. Rather than see this as a new or different strain of the flu and take it in stride, society has chosen to work itself into a frenzy. Webster’s Dictionary defines frenzy as inflammation of the brain. How ironic! People who go to any length to avoid the remotest possibility of contracting Coronavirus, flock to others who suffer from inflammation of the brain. Because of that irony, the plague of darkness appears to be running rampant.

A Wall Street warrior, I’m not. But anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the business world realizes that the panic we have permitted to run rampant will have ramifications that will be crippling and far-reaching. I’ve never been a fan of hand sanitizer and latex gloves (I continue to employ the old-fashioned method of washing my hands regularly with soap and hot water), but it is safe to predict that anticipated shortages of these two commodities are but the tip of the iceberg. With the Asian economy on the road to shut down, the American economy will feel far more than a pinch. Especially when it comes to that which we import from Corona Virus “infected” China. With no one to show up at factories in China, it’s only a matter of time, until shelves become empty in the United States. With presidential aspirants attempting to impress the public that such a crisis would never have been permitted to germinate under their leadership, not one of them has looked the American public in the eye, warning that this country must become self-reliant. Not one has attempted to convince us, that it is essential that the United States remains largely economically unaffected, certainly when it comes to imports, should the economy of another country find itself compromised. And here I fault politicians of both parties. Obviously, we are unable to realize that self-reliance is both achievable – we learned that lesson courtesy of OPEC – and vital to this country. Until we learn the lesson of self-reliance so that we cease to be a country beholden to imports, we will remain paralyzed by the plague of darkness.

Decades ago, I asked my mother if scientists will ever come up with a cure for cancer. She truly believed that in time, scientists would make such a discovery. My mother then added that when that happens, some other dreaded disease will rear its ugly head. For someone who never completed High School, my mother was quite capable of sagacious insight. There was a time when Diphtheria was of epidemic proportions (a mere 5 years ago, despite vaccines, 2,100 people succumbed to Diphtheria, yet I fail to recall any mass hysteria at the time); there was a time when Polio was of epidemic proportion; there was a time when Tuberculosis was with good reason, feared like the plague. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but it’s merely a matter of time until some other disease comes to the fore with mass hysteria breaking out, yet again.

Will we permit this current plague of Darkness to prevail and paralyze us?  One of the realities that we refuse to confront, is that disease is a fact of life. Despite our fantasy of being able to control everything that comes our way, we are served reminders from time to time, that there are destructive forces greater than us, however temporary they might be.

Let cooler heads prevail so that hysteria does not wreak havoc. Let us view Coronavirus in proper perspective. Let us merit leaders who will put our country on a path of self-reliance. Let us realize, that disease is a fact of life and we have an obligation to combat that disease, let us recognize the reality that another disease is headed toward us and that it’s just a matter of time. Above all, let’s bear in mind that it’s time to prepare for Pesach.

THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

A  little over a month ago we spilled the wine, as we recounted the plagues visited upon the obstinate Pharaoh who refused to liberate the Children of Israel. There is yet one other plague however, that is far more abhorrent than those recounted at the Pesach Seder. That is the plague that broke out close to fifteen hundred years later in ancient Israel, among the students of Rabbi Akiva. We learn from the Talmud, that among Rabbi Akiva’s 12,0000 pairs of students, there were those who perished daily, beginning on Pesach, until the thirty-third day of the counting of Omer. The Talmud further relates that the cause of this plague, was the lack of respect that the students of Rabbi Akiva accorded one another.

For close to two thousand years, rabbinic scholars have been totally incredulous at the very notion that the students of Rabbi Akiva could behave toward one another in such fashion. Although I never have considered myself a rabbinic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I cannot help but feel, that three salient points have not been taken into account:

For us as a people, discussion, dispute and divergent opinion have served as our life blood. What makes us Jews so unique, is our ability to hold  contradictory views and opinions. As such, it was our ancestors who were the true promulgators of democracy! Yet, there are times, such as a state of emergency, when democracy must be put on hold  and take a back seat. Such a time was during Rabbi Akiva’s leadership. The tension that existed between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people it governed, was at an all-time high.  With the destruction of the holy Temple having taken place a mere six and a half decades earlier, the lesson that the destruction left in its wake had yet to be absorbed. And that was, that internal dissension can prove to be lethal, when living under the rule of a foreign government. After all, wasn’t “sinat chinam” or baseless hatred that flared up among our people that ultimately served as the root cause for the Roman victory?  Yet, thirty-five years later, the great sage Rabbi Akiva not only defied the Romans from a religious aspect, by continuing to teach Torah publicly, thereby ignoring a recently handed down edict, but he defied the Romans from a military aspect as well! After all, Rabbi Akiva was one of the supporters of Bar Kochba, the Jewish General believed to be able to overthrow the Romans, thereby casting off the yoke that the Romans imposed upon the Jews of ancient Israel! Surely, there must have been strongly held opinions regarding Rabbi Akiva’s political involvement! Disagreement about the understanding of a religious text is one thing; disagreement where students simply fail to understand why a religious leader would get himself so entrenched in the overthrow of a government is quite something else. However useful the exhortation to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company,” one would do well to bear in mind that of the two, discussing politics is far more dangerous to the well-being of relationships  and at times even far more lethal.

Story has it that a renowned rabbi, together with his Shamash  traveled to visit another renowned Rabbi to discuss a pressing religious  matter. Although the host rabbi was informed of the arrival of a revered religious leader, the host rabbi had the visiting rabbi wait in line together with the commoners for hours until he was received. Sometime later, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot. The host rabbi together with his Shamash were visiting the very same rabbi who had earlier paid them a visit. As soon as the rabbi who had been made to stand in line and wait, learned of the presence of his visitor, he gave instruction that a red carpet be rolled out and carte blanche be given to the important visitor. The Shamash was incredulous. “this is how you pay back one who treated you with such disrespect,” he asked his revered leader incredulously.
“Better he and his Shamash  should learn to accord respect from us, than we should learn to accord disrespect from them,” answered the venerated Rabbi.

Once Jews treat one another with respect, a perilous plague will have been eradicated from our nation.