A combination of a recent Daf Yomi, this past week’s sedra, and the just-completed World Zionist Congress vote and brouhaha should teach us lessons while contemplating and maybe even overcoming the coronavirus. As we follow the rules to “disconnect” with each other to minimize the spread of this terribly contagious disease, all three of these institutions have the potential to unite all Jews more closely than ever before.
We all know of the terrible sin King David committed in sending the husband of a woman he craved to the frontlines of the battlefield, for which the king later atoned. But it merely increased the chances of one person dying in place of another. Jews around the world recently read about the Talmud’s recounting of a counting (sic) involving a far worse sin by King David as to its consequences, though seemingly innocuous on its face. The king conducted a census of the population of his kingdom, but instead of counting indirectly by means of half shekels representing people, as discussed in this past week’s Torah reading, King David ordered the counting of the people directly. As a result, we are told, a plague took place, causing 100 people to die each day. The Jewish leadership was informed that the decree would be annulled were a new mitzvah to be created, whereupon a requirement was created for the recitation of 100 brachot each day, and the mass deaths ended.
Were it only so simple for ending the sicknesses and deaths caused by the coronavirus! Actually, it is not so simple, and not merely because most Jews presumably fall far short of reciting the 100 blessings each day, let alone earning and meriting heavenly blessings in “return,” without God’s merciful grading system. Another crises of another census has just taken place this past week as well:
The future of the Jewish people hangs in the balance another way as well. In this same past week, voting ended for the 38th World Zionist Congress, at which close to a billion dollars are to be allocated by the winners of the elections for participants at the Congress. The slates range from right-wing religious nationalists to “progressives,” some of whom may advocate more openly for the rights of Palestinians who would like to throw the Jewish Israelis into the sea than for the rights of defenseless little children of families headed by saintly fathers who spend virtually all their time studying the Torah and doing good deeds. The problem is that at least one rabbi made claims against the followers of a slate he opposed that were allegedly categorized as denigrating and disparaging, to put it mildly (which is not the way it was put), against the rules of the voting process, which could have jeopardized the viability of the slate of which the rabbi was a member, at great cost to the people he represented, as well as to the people from other slates with similar views and values.
Nobody should blame the coronavirus on a king who was coronated thousands of years ago or on a rabbi who was passionate in his electioneering thousands of minutes ago, but we can all learn a few lessons from contemplating recent events, including those just described. (1) It is important to follow rules set forth by God as well as rules set forth by duly authorized non-authoritarian human beings. (2) Those who violate the rules, even with the best of intentions, may cause great calamities to themselves and the people they care for. (3) When advocating for one’s views, one should be as persuasive as possible, but nevertheless take care to avoid unnecessarily denigrating directly and with specificity those with whom one disagrees. President Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” has wide applications across the political spectrum and across the religious spectrum. (4) The ongoing rules that are being set forth to counter the coronavirus are truly unprecedented in our social, vocational and religious lives, and are being violated by many people who refuse to defer to the rulings of their political and religious leaders, but they must be adhered to if we will be able to merit continued positive responses to the blessings we recite each day for God to continue to bestow His grace over humanity in general, and the Chosen People in particular.
Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq., is most well known as the author of “The Maverick Rabbi,” as the editor and supplementer of a variety of other books; and as a scholar-in-residence on charismatic contemporary rabbis and on the relationship between Judaism and America’s former national pastime. He can be reached at [email protected]