Blog: Humbled by a Mask

At the very moment when mankind is advanced enough to grapple with Artificial Intelligence, gene editing and quantum computing, we’re totally defenseless against a virus – except for a cloth over our face.

July 16, 2020



h, the sheer irony of masks.

After months of declaring that face coverings were unnecessary, mocking Joe Biden as “politically correct” for wearing one, then saying that he himself looked like the Lone Ranger in a mask but still not appearing in public suitably covered, Donald Trump was finally photographed with a POTUS-branded mask last week.

His U-turn has clearly given cover to other prominent mask-skeptics like Boris Johnson to perform a similar maneuver, in his case more a zig-zag because of its conditional nature. The Scots, for their part, have become recent mask-enthusiasts, possibly to make a tartan-statement about Sassenach carelessness.

Politicians’ late conversion to the glasses-fogging, heat-rash inducing face coverings comes as the World Health Organization reversed its own position last month to support masks. Perhaps the only wonder is that it took them so long: common sense (which informed Israeli policy) has dictated from the beginning that an airborne virus would spread far less if people prevented it getting airborne in the first place.

Six months in to the battle against COVID-19, the official embrace of masks raises an intriguing possibility.

So far, 13 million people – or less than one quarter of a percentage of global population – have been infected by coronavirus. But as more economic and social life resumes, that could rise exponentially and rapidly. Meanwhile, a workable, widely available vaccine is thought to be about a year away.

What proportion of the global population will be infected, and possibly immune by then? Could it be dozens of percent? Is it possible that herd immunity – the holy grail – could be achieved without a vaccine?

It’s impossible to know, but the very idea that the humble mask may prove our best defense against coronavirus is truly ironic.

Because at the very moment when mankind is advanced enough to grapple with Artificial Intelligence, gene editing and quantum computing, we’re totally defenseless against a virus – except for a cloth over our face.

Enormous resources are currently being poured into combating COVID, with no guarantee of success, and we’re protected by the same technology used in 1919 to keep away the Spanish Flu – a face mask.

How ironic. How very humbling.

And maybe that’s the point. When corona swept with blind fury over much of the world in March, we instinctively reached for safety. We talked of trust in Hashem, exchanged references to Rav Dessler’s idea of shattering belief in human self-reliance.

But along with the rest of the world, we looked to the CDC, Big Pharma and med-tech startups for a sign of a miracle cure. So far though, that has eluded us, and we’re reliant on pieces of cloth.

Pundits and futurologists alike have been blindsided by the eruption of corona this year. It’s a rash commentator who will hazard a guess as to what 2021 will look like.

But one thing is for sure. Even if a wonder-drug makes it to market soon stopping COVID in its tracks, the last six months has been an extended lesson in human limitations and Divine power that we shouldn’t forget.

Our world, if you like, has been unmasked.

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About the Blog
As a writer, I find miles of any sort – air, bus, or foot – generate creativity. Meeting people and mixing with the world is good for column inches.
But this strange new world of coronavirus lockdown, with its disquiet and hardship, has also brought out an outpouring of Emunah, creativity and humor to cope with sudden crisis.
It’s also brought out a new spirit of introspection, obvious well beyond the hallowed walls of Mishpacha.
So when the call came from on editorial high to do some writing for this site, I asked for leeway to go beyond my normal journalistic beat. No one needs more data on Covid-19, so I’d like to “think different”, to quote the old Apple slogan.
If you log on here, expect some hashkafically-flavored musings on the current situation, attempts at forward thinking, leavened with some forays into the news side of things.
I’d really like to hear your feedback as well. So to quote Yechezkel, the Jerusalem makolet owner mythologized by yours truly, “mi sheba, Baruch haba.”


Gedalia Guttentag |
April 26, 2020

Gedalia Guttentag is Mishpacha’s news and features editor. He studied for more than a decade in the Mir yeshiva, and is active in Jewish education.

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