COVID-19 ~ A Megillah Remedy
Last month, 109 people attended a sales conference held by a UK company at a Singapore hotel. Such an event would seem to be of minor significance. What impact could 100 people in a Singapore hotel have on our life? Turns out, quite a bit!
Attendees flew home from the conference to locations around the globe. In so doing, a number of them unwittingly took COVID-19 with them, significantly advancing the spread of the virus (according to a recent Wall Street Journal report).
Upon discovering this development, health authorities delved into the travel details of the conference attendees, seeking to find where the virus had gone. It turns out that this small gathering played an important role in the spread of Coronavirus.
We Are Interwoven
One of the important realities that underlies the spread of the COVID-19 is just how connected our world is. You wouldn’t realize that 100 people in Singapore could impact your life. Yet, our world is far more connected than we are aware of.
With the Coronavirus, we see this truth manifest in the spread of a physical virus. This phenomenon hints at an important part of our world. People in the most far flung places who come from the most disparate cultures are all connected.
While the development of this virus is unfortunate, it should awaken us to a spiritual truth. We are all connected. Our rabbis teach us, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh B’Zeh (all of Israel are responsible for one another).
Not only are we Jews responsible for one another – we are responsible for the greater world.
Rav Yisrael Salanter once said that when one Jew keeps Shabbos in Paris, another Jew in New York will refrain from Lashon HaRah. We are all connected. Our thoughts and actions impact all of creation. Just as a virus spreads to our detriment, we also have the potential to infect our world with words of Shalom and words of hope.
The Force of Anti-Semitism
On Purim, we consider the age-old problem of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has noted that anti-Semitism mutates over time, much like a virus.
In the middle ages, anti-Semitism was expressed in hatred of the Jewish religion. In the 19th and 20th C, enemies of the Jews opposed us due to our race. Today, there is a widespread movement of anti-Zionism, a thin veil for opposition to the Jewish nation. But how is it that this disease manages to spread through all generations?
The Megilla recounts a story that is spread over a wide geographic area. Achashveirosh ruled over 127 provinces. Haman advanced a very sinister view of the Jewish people:
There is one nation dispersed and scattered amongst the nations of your kingdom and their laws are different from every nation and they do not fulfill they laws of the king, and it is not beneficial for the king to keep them around.(Esther 3, 18)
With Haman’s decree, we become narrowly focused on this one enemy of Israel. Then, as the appointed date arrives, the Megilla notes how this was the day the enemies of the Jews hoped for. It was the day they were hoping to overrule the Jews – though it got overturned. Haman did not only speak for one person. He infused hope in the enemies of Israel.
Esther in the Palace
The danger now facing the Jewish people was overwhelming. Yet, there is this Jewish queen, Esther. There she is, sitting in the palace. Mordechai, her uncle, commands her to go immediately to the king and beg him for the Jews.
Esther cannot hear of it. Anyone who goes to the King without being called, their destiny is only to be killed. What’s more, she says, just be patient. I have not been called there in 30 days. Surely, I will soon be called by the King. Mordechai responded, “do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews.” (Esther 4, 13)
If you are withholding yourself from going to the king, this can only be a matter of self-delusion. But still, why wouldn’t Mordechai follow Esther’s advice and just wait for the king to call? The answer is that the Jewish people were in grave danger. In a situation of national danger, don’t bide your time. Who knows if and when the king will call you and what will happen in the meantime?
Further, Mordechai was also confident that “relief and deliverance” would come to the Jews. The only question is where it will come from. Esther agrees to comply with Mordechai’s command and instructs him that all the Jews should pray on her behalf.
As we stand back from this, we can see that there is a sickness in the empire. Haman is offended by Mordechai and the Jews. He advances a decree. At the foundation of this decree is the fact that there are plenty of other Jew haters out there.
Mordechai’s response is to address the decree in the most direct way possible. Mordechai doesn’t seek to contain the problem; he confronts it. When faced with anti-Semitism, we are looking at a virus that cannot be kept under wraps.
The Haggadah points out that there is a latent opposition to Israel in every generation. Its expression changes with the times, but it’s always lurking. This is an eternal force of opposition to Israel that takes on different forms. As the Torah says, there is a hand raised against the throne of G-d “M’Dor Dor,” from generation to generation.
One of the big problems that we face in our time is that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are becoming more socially acceptable. Sinister views about Israel seem to be gaining popularity. I’ll give you an example: just a couple of weeks ago, a major US Presidential candidate with millions of followers was invited to speak to a pro-Israel AIPAC conference.
This candidate responded by saying that he would not join the conference, calling it a platform for bigotry and referring to the leader of Israel as a racist. This outrageous statement is not supported by any fact-based evidence.
Anti-Israel rhetoric taps into some of the negative sentiments about Jews that are becoming embedded in our world. Sadly, opposition to Israel is becoming increasingly acceptable in many social circles. Other than a handful of Jewish groups and rabbis, these remarks met with a whole lot of silence.
In Europe, it’s far worse. A couple of weeks ago, in Brussels, a carnival parade took place depicting religious Jews as insects and mocking Holocaust victims. The shame that Europe felt for a few years over the atrocities of the Holocaust is being replaced with a brazen generation.
Words of Shalom
How do we combat this disease? We cannot contain it, but we cannot be silent. Much like with a physical virus, we shouldn’t panic – but we have to be vigilant. Our world is connected. It is unfortunate that opposition to Israel is so acceptable. At the same time, if there is anything we learn from Coronavirus, it’s that we can impact the world on a global level.
The final teaching in the Megilla about Mordechai is that he was Dover Shalom l’Kol Zaro, he spoke words of Shalom to all his seed. How did Mordechai advance spiritual health? He spoke words of Shalom to the Jewish people around him. Those words spread far and wide.
The day of Purim is built upon the ideas of Kiddush HaShem and loving our fellow Jew. We read the Megilla – publicizing the miracle. We donate Matanot L’Evyonim, caring for our poor. We send out Mishloach Manot – showing friendship to our fellow Jew. We partake in the Seudah, thanking G-d and celebrating the miracle.
In these Mitzvot, we proactively express our love of G-d and love for our fellow Jews. In times of stress and panic, we could unwittingly speak words that are hurtful others. That would have an effect counter to what we need in these times.
Study your words and meditate upon them, as you strive for words of Shalom.
Make these days of Purim a time to heal.