24 Mar Combatting Coronavirus With Kavanavirus: Seeing G-D Everywhere, Even During This Crisis
A few days ago, my young son was lying on the couch in the middle of the day. My wife asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn’t feel well. She asked, “What’s the matter?” and he said, “I think I have kavanavirus”. Baruch Hashem, he is totally fine, but maybe he is on to something. Among the many efforts, initiatives and precautions we are all currently taking, if we want to defeat coronavirus, we need to make kavanavirus contagious, we need to make it go viral. Experts are all guiding us that the key to slowing down, if not stopping, the spread of this virus is social distancing, a term and a practice that should be an anathema to us. We generally draw strength from togetherness and unity and yet, during these extraordinary times, the best way to show that we are together is to be willing to remain apart. However, while we are distancing, G-d is breaking quarantine everywhere. In difficult moments and crises like these, we have a choice to make. We can focus on this horrific virus, those it has struck, and wonder, “where is G-d?”, or we can look at how we are collectively responding, keep an eye on the extraordinary things that are happening, and find Him everywhere. Hashem is found through His heroic angels, the doctors, nurses and custodians caring for people in hospitals and nursing homes. He is found through the network of special volunteers, His angels who are eager to check in on the homebound and deliver provisions to the vulnerable. You can see Him through the generosity of those angels digging deep into their own pockets to ensure that those hit hardest can continue to be safe and taken care of. These acts of kindness, this attitude of cooperation and collaboration, these gestures of selflessness are indeed expressions of Godliness, come from the spirit of Hashem that is found within each and every one of us. G-d is also found in the blessings He continues to bestow upon us, even during these challenging times. He can be found through the technology which enables us to remain in touch, to videoconference hundreds around the world. He can be found through apps, websites and emails that empower us to continue learning Torah together and to daven together, to sing together, prepare for Shabbos together and to learn how to make Pesach together. Make no mistake, even during this outbreak, Hashem can still be found in the rising and setting of the sun, in the beautiful trees and plants, in the intricate ordinary functions of the human body. Indeed, Hashem can be found in literally each and every breath that we take. The book of Tehillim concludes with the pasuk, Kol Ha’Neshama tehalleil Kah, every soul must praise Hashem. Our rabbis (Midrash Rabbah) tell us, don’t read it as kol ha’neshama, every soul, but kol ha’neshima, with each breath, we must praise God. Rav Chaim Kanievsky in his Ta’ama D’Kra explains that as long as a person has breath in his lungs, as long as we can still speak, we must never stop recognizing Hashem everywhere and we must continuously praise Him. The Chasam Sofer has a beautiful, and particularly timely explanation. He says, kol ha’neshima means praise Hashem not with every breath, but because of every breath we take. A healthy person breathes 12 – 20 times a minute and doesn’t think about it even once. Breathing is a natural, automated action. We take it for granted and not only expect the next breath to come; we don’t even think about it. And yet, there are countless factors, intricate mechanics that are necessary for each breath. The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, it makes it difficult for those who have it to breath, even forcing some to be placed on a ventilator. This virus should remind us that there is nothing ordinary, predictable or expected about breathing. We aren’t entitled to this great gift and blessing, and so kol ha’neshima, with each and every breath we take, we should acknowledge, thank and sing praise to Hashem. G-d is not quarantined; He isn’t distancing Himself from any of us. In fact, He can be found all around us, through His angels, through the blessings we receive and through each breath we take. While physically distancing is what is necessary to remain safe, drawing close to Hashem at this time is what we need to not only survive, but to thrive, spiritually. Hashem doesn’t quarantine, He never needs a hazmat suit and being near him doesn’t pose a threat or danger. You can not only shake His hand, you can lean in to feel His hug, you can welcome His embrace. As we work to stop coronavirus, let’s work hard to spread kavanavirus, through the concerted effort to pay attention to Hashem all around us, within us and through us. Let’s be His angels to help others, let’s pause to thank Him for the blessings we still have and let’s pray with all our concentration and might that He bring only good health and safety for all of us.