I Hate the Coronavirus
I know that loads of people are speaking about the blessings of the coronavirus. They get to catch up on family time, institute regular family dinner, purify themselves of materialism, and appreciate the simpler things in life. But all of these gifts have come about despite — and not because of — the coronavirus.
Simply put, there is nothing good — zero — about the virus. It is a silent, vile, deadly killer. It has ripped loved ones from families, torn apart communities, and made ordinary citizens suspicious of each other. You go for a simple walk — mask on your face and gloves on your hands — and you see everyone coming in your direction as a potential super-spreader. Forget neighborly chatter or even a simple nodding of the head. You ignore the people and try to get as far away from them as possible, as if everyone is a potential mugger or criminal.
I have definitely found blessings in the last two months of lockdown. I learn Torah with my kids most nights at dinner, and we appreciate Shabbos as a time to laugh and debate. Without the week broken up by the Sabbath, we would lose all sense of time. I have also significantly expanded our social media base and reach through nightly Zoom, Facebook Live, and Instagram broadcasts. And it’s been a pleasure to have all our children and grandchildren around us full time.
But I will never credit the killer coronavirus for any of this. All of these blessings were always present in our lives beforehand. They were there for us to discover, and they never had to come about through 100,000 Americans losing their lives, including so many friends who have lost loved ones.
Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not believe that suffering brings redemption. In our religion, there is no one who has to die in order for humankind to be redeemed. A good and innocent man need not be nailed to a cross by a brutal Roman occupier in order for God’s children to be forgiven for sin. We Jews do not seek or find any blessing in suffering. To the extent that our people have been subject to persecution for thousands of years, it has been against our will. We do not relish dying for our faith. The Torah says, “And you should live through My commandments.” Martyrdom was forced upon us, against our will.
Suffering in life does not bless us, but curses us. It leaves us jaded, broken, and cynical. Our job as human beings is to obliterate suffering from the earth. Our mission with the coronavirus is to find remedies that get people immediately off ventilators and save their lives, and ultimately find a vaccine that protects us from this disgusting disease. The word coronavirus lends dignity to a disease that is not comely but odious.
Our heroes in the first responder and medical communities cherish life and are fighting to save every man, woman, and child not because they are motivated by the virus, but because they are motivated to kill it. The coronavirus has not brought out our best. Our best was always present and shines forth despite the darkness of the virus.
Nurses and doctors and ambulance drivers were always there making us healthy and saving us from disease. We just took it for granted. The coronavirus did not give us a special power to behold. Rather, we chose to peer through the pandemic’s fog.
My fear is that if we ever credit the virus with good, if we’re misguided enough to find blessing in this cursed pandemic, then we will not fight it sufficiently. If we see it as bringing families together, then maybe we’ll get acclimated to lockdowns with no synagogues, no schools, and no laughter at restaurants. But if we hate it — yes, hate it — then we’ll summon every tool in our arsenal to annihilate it.
The Jewish messianic dream — going back millennia to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Micah — is not a world illuminated by the wisdom we gain from illness but a world purged of all disease. There is nothing positive that suffering or death brings to our lives that cannot be attained through positive means.
When I was a boy, my mother took me to a dentist to get rid of my cavities. He poked my gums with a needle and painfully drilled the cavity out. Fast forward 30 years and I went back to the dentist with a cavity. He took out a needle and poked my gums and drilled out the cavity. I was indignant. “What are you doing?” “I’m getting rid of the rot in your teeth,” he told me. But I was confused. “In the intervening years since I was a kid, they’ve invented the Internet, sent probes to Jupiter, and invented the iPhone. But you’re still poking around my gums to get rid of cavities?”
We all want to get rid of the rot from our lives and from our teeth. We all want to have stronger families, more passionate marriages, live less for money and materialism, and have children with better values. We all want to eat healthier, live healthier, and be more humble and loving. But we don’t need to be poked by the coronavirus to achieve any of this. God asks that we seek to bring about positive change through positive means.
How many of us did not appreciate going to synagogue enough when shuls were open. Did we need them to close to miss them? And how many of us, before the pandemic, spent an extra hour at the office rather than coming home to eat with our kids? Did we need lockdowns to remind us we were parents?
Judaism is a religion of life, not death. We bury our dead outside our cities. We pray to a living God, not one martyred on a cross. And we pray for a time of eternal life when all humanity will be healed, when there will be an abundance of food and plenty, and peace will cover the earth so that the blessings of life can be absorbed, appreciated, and internalized forever. Join me, will you, in hating the coronavirus. Join me in applauding and encouraging those with the skill-set to kill it. And join me in demanding from God that He keep his promises to humanity to give us an earth that is blessed with health and never cursed with illness.
Join me in praying that humanity as one indivisible family will purge this scourge from the earth so that we’ll witness children laughing, husbands and wives embracing, and communities celebrating in an era of eternal fellowship and peace.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s book on Judaism and the messiah, “The Wolf Shall Lie With the Lamb,” is available on Amazon and at Shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.