02 Jun Coronavirus (Part 12)
Baruch Hashem, our phones are not ringing every day with levayah announcements and shiva notices. The weekly newspaper does not have whole sections of COVID-19 obituaries. Thankfully, things have slowed down but new challenges are surfacing. How afraid should we be of the disease that is still lurking out there? How worried should we be about reports of young COVID-19 deaths in Brazil? Will there be a dreaded second wave as there was during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918? Then, there is the confusion. Many people are trying to will the disease away, divesting themselves of masks and rejoicing in the spring-like weather and their new-found freedom. Other people, especially if they are older, are still ensconced in their homes, getting deliveries and ‘Lysol-ing’ the packages. Then, we have the great shul dilemma. Should we daven outside? Are we ready to go inside? If we are ready to go inside, we find that some people have grown very comfortable with porch minyanim, with streamlined prayers right near their home without mishabeirachs, drashas, and appeals. Unfortunately, some people have even gotten used to davening at home without the daily grind of getting up at certain times, fighting for parking, and running back and forth. Then, there is the chilul Hashem issue. One shul is careful to only have 12 people even in a cavernous room with social distancing, masks and barring the bathrooms while another shul has minyanim of 60 people in a small room with business as usual. Hashem is truly testing us with new challenges. I am in no way an oracle of answers in the midst of all this confusion. But, let’s review some Torah truths. We are expected to take massive precautions when it comes to chilul Hashem, desecrating Hashem’s name. In our world of instant viral media, we cannot afford to make a misstep when it comes to misbehaving in the eyes of the non-Jews. So, if we are not allowed to have more than a certain amount of people in a house of worship and we are mandated to social distance and wear masks, then to daven without meeting these conditions is certainly a mitzvah habah b’aveirah, a mitzvah that comes through a sin, which Hashem detests. Those who go up to the Catskills know that even in the best of times, the locals do not appreciate our trampling upon their quiet country life. Now, they have an excuse to be righteously indignant as they don’t want their hospitals to be flooded by what they call ‘outsiders.’ So, we have to be incredibly vigilant not to give them any excuse to point a finger at us. Although there was a time when backyard and porch minyanim were the safe way to go, we have to know that it is still very much b’di’eved, a very, very second-rate solution. The Gemora tells us that the place to daven is in the Beis HaKneses, saturated with years of prayer and learning, the home of our sifrei Torah, the Mikdash Me’at. We need to yearn to go back as soon as possible, as we say, “B’Beis Elokim nahalech b’ragesh – To the House of Hashem I go with great passion.” We don’t want Hashem to see that we are getting comfortable on our porches, in our backyards, and under our tents. They are good for barbeques and volleyball but our davening belongs in shul. We need to pray that Hashem should return us as quickly as possible. Finally, we are also taught, “Chamira sakanta mei’sura,” danger to our health deserves even more watchfulness than something that is Biblically prohibited. If we are not sure, because of our age or our medical condition that it yet safe to venture out, then the Torah expects us to err on the side of great caution. While we want to enjoy the pleasures of the springtime, let’s remember the extra refrigerated trucks that were needed at the hospitals for the overwhelming number of COVID-19 corpses and say to ourselves that we want to see many more springs. In the merit of our concern regarding chilul Hasehm and shmiras hanefesh, may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.