It seems that the experts guiding the Republicans and then the Democrats have been wrong at every twist and turn of the ponderous pandemic that clouds our lives, from when they originally assured us that COVID would be just like the flu; the lockdown would just be for a couple of weeks to flatten the curve; masks won’t be necessary; masks will be necessary; mandates won’t be imposed; they will be imposed; the Democrats had a plan to solve the problem; now they say there is no federal solution; the vaccine would solve the problem; now the second one will not solve the problem, nor the third, nor necessarily even the fourth. Maybe eventually we will need to take an anti-COVID pill every morning with our coffee.
Our scientists and our politicians of both parties seem like the blind leading the blind.
Which leads us to the Daf Yomi, the daily page of the Talmud studied simultaneously by Jews on every meridian of the globe, that can always be counted on to give us good advice, whether we are Republicans or Democrats—or fed up by both parties.
In the Daf Yomi that is being read the day this issue is first being made available online (Megillah 24), Rav Yossi discusses a person who is literally blind. He notes that he was always bothered by a verse in the tochacha, “You will grope at noontime as a blind man gropes in the darkness” (Devarim 28:29). Doesn’t a blind person grope in the daytime the same way as at night? So why specify “as a blind man gropes in the darkness”? (From the context, it seems to mean “at night.”) Rav Yossi then proceeded to say that he finally got an epiphany about this when he saw a blind man carrying a torch in the absolute darkness of the night. “Why, my son,” Rav Yossi asked, “do you need this torch if you are blind? It can’t help you see anyway.” To which the blind person responded, that may be true, but “as long as I have a torch in my hand, people see me and save me from the pits and the thorns and the thistles.” So, the Talmud concluded, even a blind person derives at least an indirect benefit from the light, and therefore may recite the blessing over the heavenly luminaries.
During the pandemic, it seems that the scientists, the politicians, the pundits and the potential victims are all like blind people walking, stumbling and groping in the dark, day and night, but what gives us hope is that we can help each other, whether we are carriers or not, whether we had the virus or not, whether we are vaccinated or not, by keeping our distance from each other, by performing activities remotely (if there is even a remote chance that we will reduce the spread thereby), by wearing masks, and by taking all the other appropriate measures. But we are in a better position than the blind person who had to rely on others to protect him. We have the supremely good feeling to know that we are helping each other. The mask we wear may be protecting ourselves, but it may also be protecting every stranger we encounter.
What a wonderful feeling we have to know that despite the terrible pandemic that is spreading even more rapidly than ever before, we have an opportunity to help each other and to be helped every time we breathe into a mask and smile warmly and privately in appreciation of every stranger who does the same.
Rabbi Reichel savors every opportunity to focus on what we all have in common and what we can do on behalf of each other instead of politicizing every issue. A silver lining to the pandemic is that it offers us the opportunity to unite against a common enemy in a way that seems to have eluded most of the people in our country in recent years and even to the present day.
By Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel,