One little virus, and life is turned upside down. Is this virus trying to tell us something?
As the entire human race is shaking in fear over a microscopic germ, nation after nation are closing their borders to foreigners, and their own citizens are being thrust into quarantine. Warm human contact has been put on hold. No more hugging, no kissing, no handshakes. Everyone looks at the other with suspicion — after all, that nice person next to you might be a carrier.
The airports are quiet and desolate, as if it were wartime, and airlines, with so many canceled flights, are on the verge of bankruptcy. Schools around the world have been closed until further notice. Nations usually hostile to each other have been forced by necessity to cooperate and share information in a desperate effort to prevent the spread of the epidemic threatening us all. Skimming the news headlines, we read each day of more cases of infection, and a warning bell is set off in the back of our minds: Who knows, it could be me or you next, Rachmana litzlan. And other than washing our hands more often, what can we really do to prevent it? Day by day, it’s looking more apocalyptic. The world has been shaken up, caught up in a web of fear.
For those of us who believe that the Creator is always watching over His world and has everything under control, it is clear that this is no random event. The sense of foreboding that has shaken humanity out of its complacency is here for a purpose. The meaning of Dovid Hamelech’s words, “He Who looks at the earth and it quakes” (Tehillim 104:32) hits us now with full force. Indeed, we are quaking, and the illusionary foundations of our material well-being are shifting under our feet.
But we know that in the words of the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 972), “Bakol, HaKadosh Baruch Hu oseh shlichuso — HaKadosh Baruch Hu uses all things as His agents.” And this microorganism, called coronavirus because it resembles a crown, is no exception. It’s a mussar shiur for humanity, forced in droves into quarantine, where there is plenty of time for introspection, plenty of time to think about what life is truly all about. One little virus, and life is turned upside down and inside out. Is this virus trying to tell us something?
It doesn’t recognize the borders that nations or individuals have set for themselves. Wherever it attacks, it teaches humanity that when all is said and done, all those borders are artificial. The security human beings have tried to create for themselves is revealed in all its precariousness.
The above-quoted midrash continues: “Rabi Abba said, HaKadosh Baruch Hu uses all things as His agents. Even a snake, even a scorpion, even a wasp, even a mosquito. As in the story of the wicked Titus, who entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim with his sword drawn, and a mosquito bored into his brain and killed him after causing great agony…”
And now HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s agent is the coronavirus.
None of us can know what path it will take. But looking at world history, we can perceive the Hand of Divine Hashgachah leading the world toward the ultimate Redemption. Who among us is as great as the Rambam, who even saw a segment of the redemptive process in Christianity. He writes (Hilchos Melachim 11:4):
“The Nazarene, too, who envisioned himself as the Mashiach and was executed by the court, was predicted in the prophecy of Daniel (11:14), which said, ‘And the rebels among your people will raise themselves up to bring about the vision, but they will fail.’ And is there any greater failure than this? For all the prophets spoke that the Mashiach is to be Israel’s redeemer and savior, who would gather their dispersed and strengthen its observance of mitzvos. But this [the spread of Christianity] caused Israel to perish by the sword, its remnant scattered and humiliated, the Torah to be usurped, and most of the world to err and worship a god other than Hashem. But nevertheless, man is unable to grasp the Creator’s thoughts, for our ways are not His ways, and our thoughts are not His thoughts. And all the effects brought about by the Nazarene, and of the Ishmaelite who came after him, serve only to smooth the way for the reign of the Mashiach and prepare the whole world to serve Hashem together. As is said, ‘For then I shall turn about to the peoples a pure language, to call, all of them, on the Name of Hashem, to serve Him as a united force’ (Tzefanyah 3:9). How?
“The whole world has already been filled with talk of the Mashiach, of the Torah and the mitzvos, and the word has spread to distant islands and to people of uncircumcised hearts, and they discuss these things and the Torah’s commandments. They say, ‘These commandments were the truth, but they have become obsolete and were not meant for all posterity.’
“And others say, ‘There are hidden concepts in [the commandments], and they are not to be taken at face value, and the messiah already came and revealed their hidden meanings.’ But when the true Mashiach appears and is successful, and he is exalted to rulership, they will immediately change their minds and know that they received a false tradition from their fathers, and that their prophets and their ancestors led them astray.”
The Rambam is teaching us an important history lesson. When events take a course that seem to defy logic and reality, on a deeper level they are leading the way toward the ultimate and supreme goal: redemption of the Jewish People and the entire world. This is the way to view all worldly upheavals, and now the crown-shaped coronavirus is fulfilling its mission.
And what is that mission? What is it meant to teach us? Let us look to that master of Jewish thought, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, for the answer: “The kingdom of Mashiach sprouts forth and is revealed from within the kingdom of Edom, for through the destruction of the kingdom of Edom the Kingship of Heaven arises and is revealed: ‘And to Hashem shall be the reign.’ The destruction of the kingdom of Edom will come only through the destruction of the world we know. When HaKadosh Baruch Hu brings the world to a point where its foundations collapse, where individual life turns into a life of worry and suffering, and where the whole world stands under threat of destruction, then all will clearly see that man’s arrogance and pride in his advancements, his conquest of nature, have only led to ruin, and then they will recognize the pointlessness and futility of life in This World when it has no spiritual core. When man despairs of achieving what he craves, only then will the light of Mashiach appear.” See Michtav MeEliyahu (Vol. III, p. 204) for the rest of Rav Dessler’s enlightening words on troubling events that overturn life as we know it. The crown-shaped virus, it seems, is here to show us who’s the real King.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 802)
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