Pesach has long passed, but the coronavirus has not. Here is that pre-Pesach moment, frozen in time
Just a few weeks ago, as Pesach approached amid a worldwide pandemic, I heard people complaining of boredom — which led me to record my own pre-Pesach thoughts. Pesach has long passed, but the coronavirus has not. Here is that pre-Pesach moment, frozen in time.
Bored in isolation? How can one be bored?
First they tell us to wash with soap and water for 20 seconds in cold water. Then they say to use hot water.
First they tell us to wash and sanitize any time we touch a surface like railings, elevator buttons, keys, doors, faucets, switches, keyboards. Then the World Health Organization suggests washing for 20 seconds every hour even when at home and have touched nothing. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that it’s not necessary to wear face masks, but the great Korean specialist on coronavirus claims that it’s best to wear a face mask just to be sure.
First President Trump says we should lock down for ten days, then he says for 30 days. First he says we might hopefully get back to work in about two weeks, then he says to prepare for the long haul.
In the midst of everything come Pesach instructions from the Orthodox Union telling us that in view of the situation one does not have to wash windows or scrub beneath refrigerators, or clean attics or wash down basements where chometz is not normally eaten. Due to the unusual circumstances we need not be overly stringent beyond what is required.
Relief. But then the World Health Organization tells us to wash windows and scrub refrigerators and clean attics and wash down basements because the virus can rest on almost any surface from three to seven days. And just to keep us alert, we are told that, since the virus can attach itself to clothes, we must shower any time we come in from outside.
I am disoriented, and questions arise. Can I sanitize my doorknobs just by spraying alcohol on them or must they be washed down with boiling water? Can I spray disinfectant on my keypad or does it require boiling water with an additional heated rock? And if I immerse my smartphone in boiling water, can I then use it on Chol Hamoed Pesach, assuming it has cooled down by then? Or is it by now a dumb phone?
Imperceptibly, Pesach and the virus have become intertwined. Chometz is transmogrified into the virus, the virus is transformed into chometz. Comes a notice from Johns Hopkins Hospital to gargle frequently with warm water and salt to prevent the virus from entering the bronchial tubes. Saltwater? As in dipping karpas in saltwater? Hopkins does not specify if the water must be boiling water for maximum effect. Nor do they tell us what to do when the vocal chords are damaged from gargling with boiling water.
And then they tell us to avoid cold drinks but to indulge in hot drinks to keep open those airways to the lungs. What about those four cups of wine? Do they have to be boiling hot in order to maintain those passageways so the virus can be destroyed by the acids in my stomach?
And my poor matzah: It is touched by many hands before it reaches me — must I sanitize it with a 70 percent alcohol spray — which might be chometz? Or with boiling water — which would turn it back into chometz? On the other hand, since my shemurah matzos were carefully watched from the time the wheat was cut, may I handle them without surgical gloves, and may I remove my face mask in order to eat them? And if I eat the afikomen through my face mask, do I fulfill the mitzvah properly? I asked my rabbi, but his reply came through rather garbled through his face mask.
And when Eliyahu Hanavi comes calling at my door, shall I open it and check if he is wearing a face mask and gloves? He is after all, visiting numerous households. And shall I call on him not only to shefoch chamascha al hagoyim, to “pour out his wrath on the nations who would destroy us,” but to save a little wrath to pour out on the coronavirus?
I am very Orthodox so, following instructions carefully, I wash my hands with soap and cold water for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, then soap again with hot water for another 20 seconds, then wear a face mask and sanitize my keyboard, door handles and railings, gargle with boiling water, and with the same water kosherize my Pesach pots and pans while, following a shower and disinfecting the faucets, I use alcohol to sanitize my Seder plate while balancing a cup of hot tea in my surgical gloves, and practice eating matzah while wearing a face mask, constantly maintaining social isolation.
Memo to the CDC, WHO, Johns Hopkins, and the world-famous Korean epidemiologist: Did you mean “sanitize” or “insanitize”?
One thing is certain: We are definitely not bored.
L’shanah haba’ah in a virus-free Yerushalayim.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 808)
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