COVID-19 Base Camp

As you read these words, you are living in a history book that has yet to be written. We are hastily trying to turn the pages, but the plot eludes us. We are disoriented. 

Our situation is a little bit like waking up in the wilderness. There’s no real road map. Or is there? 

When you are in the wilderness and see a mighty mountain to scale, you establish a base camp. A home base from which you build your operation to ascend the mountain. What is the “base camp” we are trying to establish in the unanticipated time of Covid-19? 

In modern times, people are prone to think, we no longer need the Torah. The ancients “had” to pray to G-d. The ancients didn’t understand the scientific workings of the universe like we do. Today, with science, medicine, travel, technology—we have it all under control! 

Our current crisis is an antidote to that way of thinking. ONE bat (or other animal)—which Jews, by the way, are forbidden to eat—came into contact with ONE person at ONE market in China. In a short amount of time, human life as we know it is upended. 

The balance of human society is profoundly delicate. A minute point of that great balance has been disrupted, and suddenly, everything has changed. And yet, this is an incredible opportunity to understand ourselves on a deeper level. 

What do we worship? 

What is it that we worship? Is it human society? The markets? Technology? Modern Medicine? In Egypt, it took 10 plagues to undermine the local gods. Today, we have learned the message of all 10 plagues in one fell swoop. 

Make no mistake—we are going to make it through this. The upheaval resulting from COVID-19 is temporary. Our community, our country, our world will prevail. Even toilet paper will make it back on the shelves (eventually). We are going to prevail, because of our spirit. Moreover, we are going to prevail because of HaShem. 

And our world is about to change in unknown ways. But if change is coming for markets, business, health and government, something else is going to change as well. And that “something” is us. 

We are going to go through an internal change; a metamorphosis of the mind. It’s a change that will serve as a foundation of how we connect to G-d for the rest of our lives. 

David Responds to Plague 

3,000 years ago, King David was consolidating his rule over Israel. At that time, he took the step of taking a census of the people. In Shemot (Ki Tisah), the Torah warned against taking a census lest a plague erupt amongst our people. Indeed, following David’s wrongful census, a plague killed 70,000 people throughout the land. 

King David was extremely remorseful for his sin. At the time that the plague was spreading, David saw the vision of an angel about to stretch out its hand to destroy Jerusalem. The Almighty commanded the angel: Desist from destroying this city! Then, Gad the Prophet came to King David and informed him of a new vision. 

Go up and erect an alter unto HaShem at the threshing floor of Aravnah the Jebusite.

(II Shmuel 24, 18) 

King David immediately went to Aravnah, who offered to give King David the threshing floor. David insisted he purchase it with his own money. The site of land that David purchased is known as the Har HaBayit, or the Temple Mount. 

“You Have Been Shown” 

What was King David focused on in a moment of plague? In that time, King David was focused on the future of how Israel would worship HaShem. 

He was establishing the base camp of Israel; the base from which we reach for the Heavens. The message that emerges from that base camp—the Har HaBayit—is that the physical world is a vehicle, an interface through which connect to G-d. 

Our lives are so physical. Paychecks, groceries, gasoline, a roof over our heads, medicine, heat, AC, maybe a vacation (we hope). What’s it all about? We have grown so comfortable in our world, knowing that our lives are very secure. Today, COVID-19 is bringing us to a great realization: 

You have been shown to know that HaShem is G-d, there is nothing else beside Him

(Devarim 4, 35) 

We all experience this crisis in a different way. There are people directly affected by the virus as well as their caretakers. So many are already facing financial calamity. Countless folks are alone, isolated. 

A Disorienting Loss 

On a personal level, not davening in a Minyan is bewildering. In my own life, Minyan became a huge part of me when I went to college, after a year in Israel. Minyan was where I could still feel that I am “part of the Jewish people.” To this day, when I am in the Minyan, it doesn’t matter if I have Kavana – I am a part of it. 

Over the years, there have been many times when I was up in the middle of the night. It may have been a challenge or even a Simcha keeping me up. Then its 3:00 am and I think, OK, I won’t set my alarm for the morning, I have to get some sleep. 

Yet, somehow, no matter how little sleep I get, when 6:15 arrives and I know that our Minyan is starting, there is no way that I can sleep. I gotta be there! Not having that in my life is strange, and disorienting. 

At the same time, Minyan is not an “idol” we worship. Today, we are involved in a Mitzvah by refraining from Jewish communal life. What’s more, in this time of focus on our own private homes, we recall that G-d’s presence dwells in every Jewish home. 

What Are We Here For? 

Our peoplehood is transmitted through the Jewish home. In these bewildering days, our household is the center of our spiritual life. Through our home, we seek to learn this truth: our entire world is a vessel to get to know G-d. 

Wealth is a wonderful thing when you can attain it. It can also disappear overnight. We have seen entire industries evaporate in a matter of days. Yet, our connection to G-d does not evaporate. Fundamentally, we are not here for wealth, but to serve G-d and know him in all of our ways. 

Still, you might be feeling anxiety, depression, fear or a range of many other emotions. If you are struggling, you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. We are going to get through this together, and we are going to do it as a family. 

Each of us has our own family unit (even if we are single). Our individual families are connected. It’s vital for us to extend our idea of family during these days. We need to reach out to one another by phone, support one another in any way that we possibly can, as we use our words to sow faith and not fear. 

New World 

More than anything, we must start preparing for the new world. We don’t know exactly what our world will look like after we emerge from this crisis. But we will are establishing a base camp of operations. 

On one level our base camp is our home. On a deeper level, our base camp is our inner world. It’s that inner recognition that there is no force other than G-d. This is the knowledge we have been shown. 

With this knowledge, we are about to scale a mighty mountain.