How Coronavirus Makes This Rosh Hashanah More Meaningful
Louis Pasteur reportedly read a French translation of a tractate of Talmud Yoma, saying that a person bitten by a mad dog should be fed a lobe of that dog’s liver. According to one claim, this quote fascinated Pasteur, who began experiments that ended in his discovery that using a bit of an infection could set off an alarm within the body that caused it to produce antibodies to fight the disease.
The shofar too sets off an alarm, calling us on Rosh Hashanah to examine our deeds and correct our ways. We must purify ourselves. Life is fragile; we have to squeeze as much from it as we can.
Why are we called by a single ram’s horn? Why do we not celebrate the birthday of the universe with an orchestra? The singularity of the shofar calls to us, from the depths of our souls, to remind us that to change the world, we must first change ourselves.
It’s humbling to witness how quickly a disease has crippled the world. In our collective memory, we have seen nothing to compare. Even the death and destruction of two World Wars could not alter humanity the way that COVID-19 has. One microscopic virus. One call to action.
Often the cure for a problem comes from the problem itself. As the Jews prepared for the exodus from Egypt, they had to stay in their homes until midnight to fortify their families before they could receive the Ten Commandments and bring morality to the world. Their isolation was the first recorded quarantine in history.
In today’s world, we are faced with constant distraction. We are so busy, we often pull away from those closest and most dear to us, and we set aside our Jewish identity.
The coronavirus has forced us to quarantine, to change, to concentrate on our families and exactly who we are. Despite the anguish of the disease, it brings us closer to our families and our Jewish identity.
After much reflection caused by this epidemic, we are able to grow in our commitment. Just as the ancient Jews left Egyptian bondage behind, so too will we emerge from this arduous isolation as better people, growing in our responsibilities as family members and Jews. As in ancient days, spiritual inoculation of the nuclear family will strengthen us as Jews to be a beacon of light to the nations.
At Rosh Hashanah, we are celebrating once again the crowning of G-d as King of the universe. The sound of the shofar represents the trumpet blast sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry serves as a call to repentance, as it wakens us from our spiritual slumber. When each of us changes, together we create the true harmony of an orchestra.
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is the Executive Director of Chabad of Columbus and the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center.