This is a class I prepared for the YBH students who are currently learning remotely. This is the lesson for April 21 and is the second in a projected series on "The Spanish American War (and the Jews)." It focuses on the American Imperialism and Jewish patriotism.
(not only because I have said many of things myself...)
From Reb Chayim Lando
Wonderfully so, the internet and blogoshpere are currently awash with the writings of countless religious thinkers of all stripes who are happy to explain to us why the corona virus is here. I would like to share with you my perspective on the matter. By way of introduction I will mention that as Orthodox Jews we are taught that when calamitous events occur (and even when lesser disturbances occur) it is a time for introspection. We should be trying to figure out what the message is that God is sending to us and clean up our act in some way. I have,however, a few rules about the introspective process:
Any message that a person comes up with should be one that applies to themselves personally. Figuring out that God is sending a message for other people to change, but you are the righteous one, is not the point of the exercise. To announce that this is a punishment from God because certain other people didn't vote in the Israeli elections is not valid. Nor is it valid to blame it on how other people are dressing or living. Find a message that applies to yourself.
A good parent or pedagogue knows that an effective punishment is one that somehow reflects the offense. To mete out a punishment that in no way reflects the wrongdoing only serves a punitive purpose and not an educational one and in no way empowers the offender to reflect on how to effect a positive change. To use the virus as a platform to rail against the same pet peeve you have been railing against for years, and one that is in way connected to the virus or its effects again misses the point.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is very much a self-introspective process. The meaning that one person finds may not be meaningful to another. For that matter, the meaning that I find today might be different than the meaning I find tomorrow. The Arizal says that in every moment of existence there is a different explanation for every word of the Torah. What this means is that at each moment of our lives we should be freshly experiencing life, contemplating life and finding meaning in life. If we find the same meaning day after day what it really means is that we aren't truly living. So what I write here today, or tomorrow, may be meaningful to me today, and may not be as meaningful to me tomorrow. And may never be meaningful to you. And that's fine.
The virus has had an impact on a global scale. The world economy has ground to a halt. One of the most visible impacts of that is the minimization of pollution around the world. To prevent the spread of the virus planes aren't flying, people are either working from home or have lost their jobs so their vehicles aren't polluting the air during their daily commute. Businesses are shuttered and not creating the same air pollution and environmental waste that they would be producing otherwise.
I have hard many people suggest that this is the Earth's way or correcting the balance. That mankind, especially over the last century or two, has raped and pillaged the Earth and now the Earthpire is striking back. How different is that from suggesting that the message God is sending us is to be more conscious of being responsible stewards of the environment?
While I am not a member of Greenpeace I have developed a certain amount of environmental consciousness over the years. Is God sending me a message that I am not doing enough? Am I driving around unnecessarily, polluting the air for no good reason? Am I wasting perfectly good resources at times because I am lazy or simply don't care? Am I careful with recycling?
Mind you, I'm not even thinking here on a global scale, I'm trying to see what I can be doing differently, better. What am I doing, or not doing, that I am not even aware of?
There is little doubt that a significant portion of the environmental damage over the past couple of centuries is due to economic progress. I am no Luddite and am not in any way opposed to progress. There are voices that have been shouting for a while that we are wreaking too much havoc in the pursuit of that economic progress. With the enforced brakes on that progress is the message that we need to have a global conversation on the appropriate balance between economic growth and environmental impact?
For those of us who don't give these matters much thought maybe this is the time for us to start thinking.