26 May Learning From History: Coronavirus (Part 1)
I don’t usually refer to secular quotes but there is a popular saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” During this global pandemic, one doesn’t have to dig too far back into history. This week, Cape Town in South Africa is experiencing the full throes of the coronavirus. They are begging doctors to come out from retirement and the citizens of South Africa would be smart to study what happened two months ago in New York and three months ago in Italy to those who didn’t quarantine and take the utmost precautions. This is a good example of how we are supposed to learn the Torah. By studying the mistakes of the past we can fortify ourselves from repeating such crimes in the future. So, for example, we learn about Miriam’s mistake in talking about family members, namely Moshe Rabbeinu and Tziporah, and we educate ourselves not to speak about siblings and in-laws or even our parents and children. We look at how the Bnei Yisroel overslept on the morning of Matan Torah and we are still repairing this mistake for millennia by staying up the entire night of Shavuos. The study of history is replete with revealing to us the pitfalls of flawed character traits and their terrible consequences. How Yeravam ben Navat, because of his jealousy of Rechavam, blocked the ten tribes from going to the Bes HaMikdash. How the ten Nesi’im, who were worried about losing their elevated stature upon entering Eretz Yisroel, spoke badly about the chances of conquering the Land. How the anger of Moshe Rabbeinu caused him to forget many halachos. How the haste of Reuven caused him to lose royalty and the priesthood. We are shown that because Rochel Imeinu did not consult her husband Yaakov before stealing the terafim (idols) from Lavan, she would die young and be buried far away from her beloved husband. How Elimelech, because he forsook his brethren in their time of need, would die relatively alone in the fields of Moav. How Kayin’s offering was rejected because he gave from the leftovers to Hashem while Hevel’s offering was appreciated because he gave from the best. How Dina’s departure from the norms of kol kevudah bas melech penima, the dignity of a woman is within (a relative credo of modesty) caused her resulting shame. How the 24,000 disciples of Rebbe Akiva were derelict in their respect to one another and were therefore felled by diphtheria. How the sibling rivalry of the tribes caused us to be slaves in Egypt. How our greed for yet more and more booty at the Yam Suf caused us to be criticized by Moshe Rabbeinu for delaying our momentous meeting with Hashem at Har Sinai. How the followers of Korach were swallowed straight to hell because they engaged in strife. How the millions of Jewish Egyptians died during the plague of darkness because they didn’t believe in the prophesized divine redemption from Egypt. How Noach was severely criticized because he didn’t do enough to rebuke his generation. How Nechemiah publically shamed the wealthy families that didn’t come to the aid of the Beis HaMikdash. How the tardiness of the Nesi’im to dedicate to the Mishkon resulted in the word nesi’im being written defectively for all time. So just like it’s obvious to us that in places like South Africa, which is months behind us and in the throes of COVID-19, would be smart to study our history, so too the study of our holy Torah is a guide for how we can avoid the many missteps and mistakes of even great people throughout the ages. Whether we are davening outdoors or slowly entering our shuls, or are still taking the extra precaution to wait and see if there will be a spike and are still sheltering in our homes, may we all accept the Torah anew with love this Shavuos, pledging to be more passionate and meticulous with our mitzvos and committing ourselves to emulating the kindness and loyalty of the great Rus. In these merits may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health, a delicious Yomtov, and everything wonderful.