Post Purim thoughts: Corona Virus will be overturned

Nothing is what it seems or seems what it is. Post Purim thoughts on dealing with and overcming the Coronavirus crisis.

Rabbi Yitzchak Rudomin

Judaism Woman with face mask coronavirus
Woman with face mask coronavirus
It's early 2020 and the world is in turmoil, it is facing a perilous existential threat, or so it seems. For the Jewish People, and for humanity at large, this is nothing new, in spite of the Corona virus being called "novel". 

I had some thoughts this past Purim as the Megillah of Esther was being read and as my mind inevitably tied the events of the past with current events. And it struck me that nothing is ever what it seems nor does it seem what it is, and how this applies to the present Corona virus crisis and how to frame it and hopefully freeze it once and for all.

The Megillah of Esther records how two and a half millenia ago, after the Jews from the Kingdom of Judah were conquered by the Babylonians they found themselves in Galut, in bitter exile in an alien land. Things seemed very bleak for the Jews, former citizens of Judah. Soon though, Babylonia fell and the new empire of Persia arose and took over with a new king, Achashverosh known as Ahasueres or Xerxes in English, who at the pinnacle of his power decided to, what else, throw massive banquets and balls to enthrall all, gentile and Jew alike, with booze galore. The king and his exceedingly beautiful queen, Vashti were full of vigor,  intoxicated with both drink and power and each other. It seemed that nothing could go wrong.

King Achashverosh then got it into his head to demand of queen Vashti to come and display her physical beauty in all its raw power, but she adamantly refused. The king was outraged, humiliated and flabbergasted, and it cost Vashti her head. So this is what all the wild partying resulted in, the beheading of the queen, which in turn sent the king into depression and spasms of withdrawal symptoms regretting his hasty punitive actions against his late beloved executed queen. What a turnaround indeed. 

Thr next step was to organize an empire-wide search for a new queen based on a beauty pageant. This impacts Esther and Mordechai who were living a quiet domestic life somewhere in the Persian exile, as Esther is kidnapped to appear in the imperial beauty pageant. As fate would have it it is the inscrutable Esther, her name is related to the word HESTER in Hebrew, which means "hidden" appropriately enough, who is chosen as a new wife for King Achashverosh and hence as the new Royal Highness Queen of the mighty Persian Empire. Yet she did not reveal her Jewish nationality so that truly nothing seemed what it is. What a terrific turnaround of fortune!

Then we have the evil Machiavellian Haman and his equally scheming wife the cursed Zeresh who are driven crazy by the brazen Jewish pride and defiance of Mordechai the Jew, or Mordechai HaYehudi as he is known in Hebrew, and by their visceral hatred of all Jews and everything Jewish. For Mordechai the leader of the Jews they prepare a gallows in their yard but it will be Haman's neck that will hang from that tree. This is not the way it seemed to Haman and Zeresh at the time they were conniving to harm world Jewry, then centered in Shushan the Persian capital.

You also have the Amalakite Haman and the indifferent FDRoosevelt Achashverosh, like a Himmler-Hitler duo, plotting the entrapment and genocide of all Jews in the Persian empire. Oh, they were so jolly as they sealed their pact to annihilate the Jews with a drink. You can just hear them chuckling as they cook up their own Final Solution to the infernal eternal Jewish Question. But their planned-for Holocaust was not to be because it was not as it seemed, evidently fate, or better yet, God had other plans! Mordechai's wisdom and Esther's smarts outwits Haman's schemes while Esther asks the Jews to pray and fast for her success as she then turns a supposed banquet into a tribunal sealing Haman's fate when she pivot's Achashverosh's love for her, and in the process revealing her true nationality as a Jew, inducing Achashverosh to override his prior decrees against the Jews and sending Haman to the gallows. And so a day fated to be a day of gloom and doom turned around to become a festival of light and life for the Jews, celebrated as Purim to this day. Absolutely nothing seemed what it is.

Incidentally, in the actual Megillah of Esther the name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the narrative. Yet all the while, the intelligent, informed and faithful reader, in the literal sense, knows that God is pulling all the strings as the Divine Puppeteer guiding each individual and the world to its unavoidable destiny and denouement fulfilling His Master Plan as nothing remains what it seems and nothing seems what it is in a whirlwind of changing and cascading scenarios, until the world comes to the climax and crescendo that God Almighty wants it to arrive at in spite of all efforts and appearances to the contrary.

This may be a good point to just stop and think about the Holocaust during World War Two during 1939-1945 when six million Jews were massacred by a latter day real life Haman Hitler and his Nazi hordes and co-conspirators, relying on an indifferent latter day what-me-worry Achashverosh FDRoosevelt. One out of every three Jews in the world was murdered during  the Holocaust, and about 75-85 million people in the world died, all as victims of one crazed sub-human's desire for an Endlossing, a Final Solution to the Jewish Question. So many times, before, during and after that bitter conflagration nothing seemed what it is, nor was what it seemed.

Yet, still and all, humanity survived and came out somewhat the better for it. The Jewish people revived in the New World especially in America and then in Israel, and the growth continues. The world too saw a new age of abundance, technology and the dawn of both the Information and Leisure Age, that is now imperriled by an invisible viral threat. But as we should know by now, nothing ever remains the way it seems.

The one constant is change, and no matter how many changes there are, much remains constant. A true paradox if ever there was one.

After Purim comes Pesach, Passover, another era when nothing seemed what it is. From the highs of Jewish freedom and comfort in ancient Egypt during the reign of Viceroy Joseph, to the turnaround of slave bondage under later Pharaoes to a reversal of fortunes under the leadership of Moshe, Moses, sent by God to redeem the enslaved Children of Israel by hitting ancient Egypt with Ten Plagues, then splitting the Red Sea, with miracle after miracle making what seemed impossible yesterday to be the new reality of tomorrow so many times over to the point where from the lowest rungs of impurity the Children of Israel rose to heights of immortality at the Revelation of God and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. But what seemed inelluctible and inevitable was also overturned as in frustration the Children of Israel sinned by worshipping a Golden Calf, and their world and ours by continuous extension came crashing down.

Humankind is fated and tugged, pulled and pushed by Divine Forces onwards, sometimes falling seven or seven umpteen times over, to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and try all over and over and over again and again and again...

Coming back to PURIM, it is connected to YOM KIPPUR, or Yom HaKipurim in Hebrew, "Ke-Purim" means "like Purim" in Hebrew. In what way is Yom Kippur "like" Purim? The Jewish Sages explain that Purim so to speak clarifies the decrees and choices of Yom Kippur. How so? On Yom Kippur the Torah instructs the priests to take two identical goats and by means of a lottery (another connection to the "lots" drawn by Haman) whereby one goat will be offered up on the altar of the Jewish Temple as a sacrificial offering to God, while the other goat will be chosen to be tossed over a cliff as an appeasement to Azazel, aka Beelzebub.

In the greater historical scheme of things it is symbolically decided on Purim who comes out on top so to speak. Will the forces of light and life or the forces of darkness and death triumph? Who wins, Haman or Mordechai? Will the Jews succumb to the forces of death or will they be enveloped in life-saving salvation from God? 

Purim is the historical paradigm of an answer to these questions, and more than that. Since it is never what it seems, even though the situation looked hopeless in the face of Haman's machinations coming out of the palace of Achashverosh, just as the situation looked hopeless for the Children of Israel 3,300+ years ago under the evil yoke of the Pharaohs, and as bad as it looked for world Jewry at the height of the Holocaust as Hitler's insatiable appetite for gobbling up country after country mounted to an insane frenzy, and as Russia and China marched to paint the world Red under Communism until Chernobyl and Covid entangled them in their own snares. The hunters who laid traps for others became the hunted. Nothing that once seemed like a reality to them turns out to be what it really is.

So now we face a Corona virus crisis. This too shall pass, or as they say in Hebrew, Gam Zu Yaavor (or as another idiom states: Gam Zu LETOVAH, this too is for the GOOD) but at what cost? We do not know. It might pass us over like the Angel of Death PASSED OVER hence PASSOVER, the houses of the Children of Israel during the plague killing the first born of the Egyptians, or will it be like the plague of darkness where the rabbis interpret that four fifths of the Israelites died resulting in only one in five Israelites leaving Egypt alive? Or will it be like the European Holocaust that saw the extinction of one out of every three Jews and a huge chunk of humanity go down the tubes?

No one knows how the Corona virus plague will play out in the world.

Only a few months ago, China seemed on such roll, they had become a global superpower armed with mountains of money and thermonuclear weapons. Who knows what they could have been plotting to do with all their financial and nuclear power? World domination? Regional conquest? Colonization of the globe? Imperial ambitions they had plenty. They forgot what happened at places like Dresden, Stalingrad, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Fukushima.But no more. Now they are the COVID-19 nation. Stuck in the mud and defeated by the proverbial "General Winter"! Trouble is they are dragging everyone down with them.

By the way, paradoxically enough the word "COVID" means "honor" in Hebrew. Funny how names for plagues are the opposite of what they mean nowadays, such as AIDS (what and who does it "aid" exactly?) which should really be called Plagues, and Gay (who and what are they so "gay" about?) which should really be called what it is called in theTorah, Toeiva, and on it goes with these crazy pseudonyms, intended or unintended. Nothing is what it seems, ever.

Who knows what God is saving us from? A Chinese inspired World War 3? He sent the HIV virus but nobody paid attention. Now with Covid, people are perking up. Let them grapple with a virus and develop some real COVID-real honor for mankind and God instead. A nuclear war launched by an arrogant China? where instead of all of us running for cover from Made in China hydrogen bombs as mushroom clouds spiral skyward and radioactive clouds shower humanity with ashen radioactive fallout, instead nations now scramble to find a vaccine to cure the Corona virus.

We cannot know if we are privileged to be treated to the lesser of two evils by God who is saving us from an even worse fate. Since nothing is what it seems, this could be the tough-love medicine needed to avoid an even worse crisis and outcome.

On the High Holy Days, we beg God that with Teshuva, Tefilla, Tzedaka, with Repentance, Prayer, Charity, the evil decree(s) are overcome. This is so clear, it speaks for itself. Teshuva-Repentance means change at least one negative trait into a positive way of acting, Tefilla-Prayer means say a little prayer, just thank God that you are alive and healthy and if not so healthy that God should cure you, He is the Rofeh Cholim, the Healer-Doctor of the Sick, and Tzedaka means give Charity, as liberally as possible by you to a worthy Jewish cause.

Another set of interpretations is Teshuva-Return, return to your good roots and to God Himself, Tefilla-Connect to yourself to a greater humanity and to God Himself, and Tzedaka-Righteousness, become a more righteous person, you are created in the Image of God, Tzelem Elokim, the world is built on Chesed, Loving-Kindness, show more Ahavas Yisroel, love of your fellow Jews and Ahavas HaBrios love of all Humankind. The Corona virus does not differentiate between people. In the end Hitler's hatreds consumed everyone and destroyed Germany as well. China's greed and hubris has made it into its own victim and into an international pariah.

In Hebrew we say Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazek when concluding one of the Books of the Torah. It means: Be Strong, Be Strong and Let Us Be Strengthened!

In the meantime, as they say in Yiddish, ZAI GEZUNT, be well, and stay healthy and safe.

[Written in Honor of my late parents, Dovid and Regina Rudomin. on the night of my 38th wedding anniversary.]