The Plague and the Pendulum

(Suh Myoung-geon/Yonhap via AP)

Reactions to the developing coronavirus saga range from one extreme to the other — literally.

Some are trying their hardest to downplay, or even shrug off, the serious nature of this spreading pandemic. Citing a host of statistics, they are irresponsibly urging the public to ignore the very real dangers posed by this new disease, officially labeled COVID-19.

At the other end of the pendulum’s swing are the overreactors. These are the people who, though they do not have any symptoms, haven’t traveled abroad, nor come in contact with anyone who is suspected of having the illness, are taking extreme and unnecessary precautions. There is currently no reason for these individuals to walk around with masks or to refuse to emerge from their bedrooms.

Both approaches are singularly unhelpful. Failing to undertake the necessary hishtadlus to try to prevent the further spread of this illness constitutes gross negligence. At the same time, overreacting and causing unnecessary panic is also highly counterproductive.

Further complicating this issue is the onslaught of rumors and misleading information being spread on social media and by word of mouth.

In this issue, we include various directives from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and since they are likely to change in the days ahead, we urge readers to continually seek updates from reputable sources of information.

Equally important are the lessons that we Torah Jews must learn from this ongoing epidemic.

These include the reality that in 2020, despite the incredible technological breakthroughs and advances in medicine, for all practical purposes, when it comes to battling an epidemic, little has changed since 1348, when the bubonic plague ravaged Europe. Neither quarantines nor border controls have thus far managed to stop the spread of the disease, and there is no known cure.

The repercussions of the disease have rattled the global economy, and have already had a devastating effect on sectors affiliated with travel and tourism. The most powerful countries in the world scramble to react, and yet have been rendered helpless — and hapless.

Once again, mankind has been reminded of its limitations.

Nearly 100 years ago, when devastating earthquakes killed tens of thousands of people in Japan, the Chofetz Chaim undertook a partial fast and urged Klal Yisrael to do teshuvah. Two years later, when a powerful earthquake hit Russia, destroying entire cities and causing many fatalities, the Chofetz Chaim wrote a powerful letter about it.

“The understanding person will realize that Hashem is urging us to do teshuvah and is showing us all that He has the power to do as He pleases, and none of His creations of Above or below can tell Him what to do. …”

This clarion call is as relevant today as it was a
century ago.