COVID-19 began in Wuhan, China, with little worldwide attention. Initially viewed in America as a distant, small problem, it was quickly evident that the novel coronavirus was more than the common flu.
Months later and the world is still fighting the ravaging toll this virus takes on society. Many are in lockdown. The term “quarantine” has become part of regular vernacular. And the fight isn’t close to being over.
Within Judaism, we have the concept of pikuach nefesh – to save a life. There are only three mitzvot that take a greater stance (idolatry, murder, and forbidden relationships). Every other commandment is superseded by saving a life. We must break Shabbat to save a life. We must break kashrus to save a life. The details of how that works are beyond the ability of this article to address and should be fielded by a local Orthodox Rabbi. The point, however, is clear: life is sacred.
Torah teaches the world that life is sacred.
The facts on COVID-19 are easily accessible – one just needs to look to a peer-reviewed authentic scholarly and scientific resource, such as the CDC.
If we treat life as sacred, and use only trustworthy sources for our information, we can weather this storm. We can hunker down, stay home, stay safe, and protect the lives of others. This is our obligation.
Unfortunately, how humans behave is often different than how they should behave.
There are some that have decided to take a very anti-Torah approach to deal with this virus. There are reports of people being accused of being plagued by G-d and given COVID-19 as a punishment because they are not devout enough. Others have said it’s fake news and is a “plandemic.” Even more have challenged lockdowns and objected to it impacting their religious freedom.
Let’s not give any validity to these arguments. They are not science-based, not intelligence-based, and not Torah-based. We need to trust the facts, trust logic, and trust HaShem.
We may not know why COVID-19 is here. In fact, nobody knows for certain. The world has been designed in such a way as to allow suffering, and that’s part of our lot in life.
COVID-19 is a pandemic for our age. We have the obligation to take it seriously and do what we can to protect everyone, not just ourselves. We need to take this pandemic as the opportunity to recognize and appreciate what we have been given: more time with family, more time to learn, and more time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around us.
Count your blessings, not your sufferings, and take that gratitude to bless others in return. That is how we will survive – not as monsters demanding our entitlements, but as caretakers and stewards of the weak, the elderly, and those among us that need help. In short, be a mensch.