The virus is not the only plague in town

While we wait to be vaccinated, let’s bless each other more, says Rabbi Leivi Sudak


Wide angle look inside in the car of actually driving young male with hands in foreground.

January 15, 2021 15:47

Coronavirus has now been around for close to a year. We have lost so many dearly beloved people.

The number of deaths attributed to the virus is staggering, yet we do not fully grasp the real damage. Perhaps this is so because we do not give it a name that casts fear, we do not call it a “plague”, because plague is a specific form of disease that is bacterial and is spread via the animal world, in particular through rodents and fleas. So, we call it a pandemic. But unless we are scientifically or medically minded, the word “pandemic” does not frighten in the same way that “plague” does.

For us common people, the situation should be told as it is. It has the same devastating effects of a plague, so we should call it a plague.

The Law of Plague is quite specific in Jewish Law. The Talmud (Bava Kama 60b) tells us that during the time of plague one should not walk in the middle of the highway, because the “harmful agents” take up the middle of the highway. Conversely, at a time of peace one should not walk at the sides (and shaded parts) of the highway, because those same “harmful agents” lurk at the side.

The Law of Plague in Jewish Law also affects other areas of law. For example, a remedy to the plague which may involve “side factors” takes precedence. We are duty-bound to do whatever medicine presents as a remedy for plague, even if there are other personal (non-life-threatening) concerns.

As the human race, we are grateful today for all those people who took the polio vaccine 60 years ago. As a result of their collective determination we do not fear the return of polio. The same should be with other frightening diseases. This is particularly correct in view of the Torah’s instruction, “and you shall take great care of yourselves” (Devorim 4:16). Similarly, Rambam rules twice about man’s imperative to be safe and healthy, and to keep far away from harm (Mada, Deos 4:1 and Nizokin, Rotzeach uShmiras Nefesh 11:6).

There is much that eminent scientists, researchers, and doctors are doing to shield us from the dangers of the coronavirus, but what is there for us to do as well?

“Harmful agents” feed on man’s misdeeds, in particular on anger and on curse.

Once, in the shul of Rabbi Yisroel, the Baal Shem Tov, one man screamed at another, “I will tear you like a fish”. Being present in the shul at that time, the Baal Shem Tov became concerned. He asked his disciples to place their right hand upon the shoulder of the person next to them. With the circle almost complete, the Baal Shem Tov completed the circle by placing his hands upon the shoulders of the two closest to him. All of a sudden the disciples began to scream in horror, they were observing the verbal assailant tearing his opponent like a fish. The Baal Shem Tov then took his hands down and the vision stopped. He then told his disciples that when words are uttered in this world, there is another realm in which those words are played out.

If this is so in the negative, how much more so must this be in the positive. If we pronounce blessing upon another, it becomes played out (at least on a higher plane).

We have a different, yet severe, malady.

Our world is overwhelmed beyond capacity with people’s curses.

Whether with people “venting their spleen” at someone else with a mouthful of maledictions, just because that person did something to make them cross. Or, with people wishing literal harm on another individual. Or, with people so liberally uttering expletives at others (how rightfully they are called “curse words”, as they are for the most part uttered in anger).

We are a people that have been endowed with a very sacred gift, the ability to bless.

When our Forefather Avrohom receives his instruction for G-d to go to a foreign land, G-d tells him “Veheyey Brochoh – you should be for a blessing”.

We have the divine privilege to bless.We each know the good feeling when we feel that we are blessed, and we all enjoy being the recipient of a good wish and blessing.

Actually, giving blessings to one another is an integral institution of the English language. The standard salutation upon taking leave from another person is “goodbye”, which is a contraction of the Old English phrase “G-d be with ye”.

Whether or not Covid-19 is a plague will depend on your personal use and understanding of the word plague.

Whether or not scientists will be successful in eradicating Covid-19 with a vaccination programme waits to be seen.

One thing is for sure. If we take Covid-19 as an inspiration to issue blessings to one another, we will make this world a much better place.

So let us start a blessing epidemic.


January 15, 2021 15:47

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