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I Am Not Afraid of Coronavirus

11/24/2020 01:57:16 PM

Nov24

Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum

Please do not misunderstand the title of this article. Covid-19 is highly contagious, and it has caused millions of deaths, illnesses and misery around the globe. I know how dangerous the virus can be. But it is not the virus that I fear. 

Yes, these tiny pathogens that can be deadly, and in response the world has changed everything:  how we work, how we shop, how we live. For some, the fear of the pandemic has been paralyzing. 

Adding to the fear and confusion is the randomness of the virus. One person gets it another does not. Within a family it is common for one spouse to contract it while the other doesn’t.

But we know that there is a Master of The Universe, and that means the world has an owner. This awareness is the key distinction between a heretic and a believer. We can see this in the word we use for heretic—apikores.  Rabbeinu Yona explains that the word derives from the Hebrew word hefker, which means ownerless. An apikores is one who denies that there is an owner of the world. All other theological arguments flow from that premise.

Who “owns” the world? I know I don’t, and I don’t know anyone else who does. Does a government own the world? Perhaps now the pathogens themselves own the world? But who owns the pathogens?

Am Yisrael knows the world has an owner, and we know who He is. As the owner, He certainly has a plan, even though we, as mere tenants and not owners, don’t always know what it is. There are two things that are very clear to me: Hashem has a plan He has not told me what it is.  

Coronavirus and the chaos in its aftermath—including the chaotic election--is the perfect example of this. A Jew knows Hashem has a plan that we do not know or understand. And this is how it is supposed to be. Though today’s society preaches that “we have a right to know”, when it comes to Hashem’s running of the world, we have no rights. 

We have no rights, but we do have responsibilities. We have a responsibility to ask ourselves questions and try to answer them. We must ask ourselves what actions are called for in the current situation? What is my proper hishtadlus/effort? What does Hashem ask of me in terms of my behavior, my attitude, my concern for others? What can I learn from this? Where should I be growing?

“Virus fatigue” is a common phenomenon after all these months. People feel they have had enough. But we must remember that we live a world with an Owner; nothing is hefker.  With that in mind, fear is appropriate, but not of the virus, which is but a tool of the Owner. This will change the way we approach the practices we are all so tired of. We practice social distancing and masking as an expression of our fear of Heaven, not of the virus. We do so out of our obligation to Hashem, who has presented us with challenges designed to help us be aware that the world is not hefker.

Sun, April 11 2021 29 Nisan 5781