By Rabbi Moshe Shmaryahu
This epidemic demands from us not only medical and economic coping, but also spiritual morality. From the heights of the power and might of the hand of modern man – from the illusion that there is no other besides him and that he is truly omnipotent – his short-sightedness becomes increasingly clear to him: a tiny, microscopic creature makes fun of humanity, destroys its illusion of security and twists it on its little finger. Slowly it becomes clear to us that we have no one to rely on but our Father in heaven.
In order to understand this situation morally and spiritually it is necessary to repeat the words of chazal about Titus (in an abbreviated and adapted form): Before Titus, the Roman emperor, burned the temple, he “sharpened and cursed upward.” He entered the Holy of Holies and desecrated it. This was not just rudeness, but an upward defiance, to say “I am the King of the world,” and not God.
On his way back to Rome by ship, Titus returned and defied God and said, “If he is a hero [God], he will go ashore and make war with me.” “Yizta bat kol” (a voice from heaven) “said to him: ‘Evil son of evil, son of the son of evil, I have a light creature in my world and a mosquito named.... Come and go ashore and make war with it.’ He went ashore, a mosquito came and entered his nose and poked his brain for seven years.”
From here the sages describe in colorful descriptions of Titus’ suffering, of his weariness in his life, of his grotesque attempts to get rid of the tiny creature that pierces his mind and of his eventual death from this suffering. (Tractate Gittin, p. No., P. 2)
Modern man thought he was omnipotent. He developed science and was sure that medicine would allow him to get along, even without God. He built enormous economic systems under the illusion that they would give him economic security and he would no longer need the mercy of heaven. He was sure that there was no one else but him and that his strength would suffice for everything.
This belief has grown to the point of making the postmodern man – who thinks he is completely autonomous – feel that he can create values, call darkness by the name of light and call light by the name of darkness, be free to create truth and falsehood, good and evil according to the arbitrariness of his heart. And even in it one cannot believe.
Modern man has developed the illusion that he can get along better without faith and without reverence and that they are a primitive matter. He thought that nothing obliged him to take on the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and that he was the king of the world, just like Titus. Rather, said the postmodern man, God will come and war will be made.
So He came and brought us the virus, and proves to us that even in front of a small mosquito, a tiny, microscopic creature, we cannot prevail, and returns us to our true dimensions until we realize that we have no one to rely on, but our Father in heaven.
Rabbi Moshe Shmaryahu is the head of Judaic and Hebrew studies of Hillel Academy of Broome County.