The Very Strong Silver Lining of COVID-19
Coronavirus has shaken up the world to an extent not experienced since World War II. In an era when the word unprecedented is used constantly, we are living through a time that is truly unprecedented.
For this reason, it is astounding that in a country where the majority of citizens believe in God, we barely hear the possibility that this pandemic brings with it a Divine message.
No one can know with certainty what the message is. Yet each of us as individuals can and should ask ourselves: what is it that I can do better? Is there something I’m not doing that I know I should do, or something I currently do that I know deep down I should not?
Now — amidst this COVID-19 shake-up — is the time that we should reevaluate.
We are taught this concept by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes (7:2). He states, “It is better to go to the house of a mourner than to a house of feasting.”
Why does he say that?
Is it more pleasant to go to the house of the mourner? Of course not.
However, it is “better” because it contributes to our betterment as human beings. The house of a mourner confronts us with the reality of our own mortality. It reminds us to think about the legacy that we want to remain when we pass on. Facing our own vulnerability in the face of COVID-19 provides that same opportunity — to clarify our goals and how we are living our lives.
A tale is told about a man with three friends — a close friend with whom he spent most of his time, a good friend that he spent some time with, and an acquaintance he met with occasionally. It happened that the man was accused of treason, and was ordered to go to the palace to plead his case. Knowing his life was at stake, he turned to his friends and begged them to accompany him.
The close friend shook his head and walked away; the good friend agreed to accompany him but only to the gates of the palace; but his acquaintance assured the man that he would not only stay with him for the entire journey, but also speak to the king on his behalf.
When he heard that, the man cried out, “How foolish I was! The only one I can truly rely on is my acquaintance. Why didn’t I make you a priority always?” The message of the story is that we all have three “friends” that we give time to — our finances, our family, and our spiritual accomplishments. At the end of our lives, the money will not stay with us, and our family can only accompany us to our funeral. It is our spiritual achievements that will remain with us eternally.
There is a Jewish custom that one who visits a cemetery should take a different path to leave the cemetery than the path he used to enter. The reason for this is that after going to a cemetery, we should come out different people. The visit should not only serve to pay respects to those who have passed on, but should motivate us to live our own lives knowing that our time is limited and we should accomplish things while we can.
Likewise, as we look to the post-shelter period, it is vital to take time to contemplate what personal Divine message we will take from this experience. We should include in our own personal “exit strategy” small, tangible changes to better ourselves.
That way, we will not get back to normal, but rather come back better.
Rabbi Menachem Levine has served as Rabbi of Congregation Am Echad in San Jose, CA, since 2007. He will become CEO of JDBY-YTT, the largest Jewish school in the Midwest, when he relocates to Chicago this summer.