Quarantine and Dick Dawkins delusions

In isolation, the writer, an ER physician, narrates the complex chain of events that preceded his return to Israel and contemplates the hubris of the scientific world with the humbleness of those who see the Divine dimension of reality.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

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I’m in the middle of my second Corona quarantine (bidud, in Hebrew) and the whole country is now on lockdown.     

To explain that requires a Talmudic saying:  mi’igra rama l’bira amikta (Tractate Chagiga 5b)- "from the highest heights to the deepest depths."  

Any treatment of the quarantine issue requires one introduction: nothing happens here on earth that is not part of a Divine plan. One would, for starters, have to be blind not to notice that the lowest mortality rate in the world from Covid-19 so far - and my it continue - is right here in Israel, G-d’s Holy Land.

Any treatment of the quarantine issue requires one introduction: nothing happens here on earth that is not part of a Divine plan.
The “heights” for me was a trip that my wife and I took to Australia in February, 2020, just as the pandemic was revving up in Western countries. It was the Hand of G-d that allowed us not only to complete the trip in the shadow of the virus, but to even plan it. In June, 2019, American Airlines warned me that if I didn’t use some 180,000 frequent flyer miles that I’d kept for 25 years, they would void them. So we called Americans’ bluff, and ordered tickets for February.

Why then? The Hand of G-d again. My wife is an English teacher, with a Master’s degree in linguistics. She has taught English 30 years in Israeli high schools, 15 as head of the Department. Unfortunately for her, she  had her 68th birthday in October; and she teaches in this country that has a severe shortage of English teachers, but in its logic also forcibly retires teachers at her agem so her Ulpana retired her in June. Mrs. Hirsch was replaced by newly elevated grade school teachers who had no high school experience - and with no experienced supervision. Kind of the blind teaching the blind. 

Soon after, to cover some of the damage, my other half was quickly un-retired, and asked to stick around and teach 9th,10th and 12th till February. Thus we ordered tickets to Australia for February. Enter the Hand of G-d: we flew off exactly one week after the 3 months of devastating bushfires ended, and returned before the massive international Covid travel closures. It was heaven: the Sydney Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, the Blue Mountain rainforest, Taronga Zoo, and Manly ,Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte and Coogee beaches. Shabbos was delightful thanks to my son-in-law’s Rabbinic connections with Rabbi David Blackman of the Jewish Learning Center. Then a flight 3000 km. to Cairns, with the amazing Kuranda rainforest and, topping them all, snorkeling the Great Coral Reef.

Then to Melbourne. The Nature tours were nice, especially the sunset in Phillip Island, watching hundreds of penguins return from the sea to their nests on land. But the highlights of Melbourne were history and architecture (built from Melbourne’s 1850 Gold Rush money): we toured the Treasury and  the magnificent building of the Library of Victoria. In its domed main reading room, I opened an Artscroll Gemara for a few minutes, just to be one of the few to ever do it. I also recommend the old Melbourne gaol (jail), where we were “arrested” and treated to two hours of pure theater by the guides. 

That was the igra rama, the heights. We came back to Israel on March 5.  On March 8, the rule went into effect that all arrivals to Israel must quarantine for 14 days. Purim was March 10, I left Israel March 12, and the bira amikta, the depths, started. 

I was scheduled to fly Chicago to Philadelphia on Sunday, March 14, to work in an emergency room. But after Shabbos, March 15, my wife called to tell me that a Corona positive patient had been on that March 5 flight, and that we both had to be in quarantine for 4 days. That killed a week’s work, with me stuck in a room in Chicago.  

It only got worse. Since El Al had already canceled my trip home on April 2, I had arranged to leave on Turkish Airlines on April 5. On Thursday, March 19, Turkish canceled that flight. I told my employer that the only flight that I could get out of US was now Wednesday March 25, and I could not work the next week. The boss was not happy (neither was I, more lost salary). But the pit only got deeper, as I felt the noose tightening around my neck:

After more canceled domestic flights, I left Chicago in a near-empty plane at 7am, Sunday, March 22, for 3 days work in a small town of 3,000 people located 155 miles north of Philly, 102 west of JFK airport. I arrived at the ER at 3 pm, where the ER director met me with the following news :           

“Ever since Thursday, we’ve been hammered with Corona patients. Right now our ICU has 6 Corona patients on ventilators. The town has a lot of people who work all week in NYC, then come home Thursday and Friday for the weekend- and they are coming back sick. We do have a negative pressure room, and PAPR’s (respirator helmets) to protect you”.    

I was shocked, not expecting this in a small, out of the way town. “OK, can I have a N95 mask?  ” , I asked.          

To my surprise, he answered: “You’ve got a beard, it wouldn’t help. Just wear a surgical mask all day”. 

Only on return to Israel, did I find out that Israeli doctors were told to shave their beards, at least down to Robert Downey Jr. style. Thus I worked all day wearing a surgical mask, luckily seeing only one patient slightly suggestive of Covid-19.    

Until 12:30 am, when I picked up a chart: 62 year old lady with 101.2 fever, cough and breathing 26 times a minute. I walked over to the room. In the hall, a nurse met me: your patient’s son is in room 12, he was here two days ago, now he’s even sicker and we are sure he’s got Corona. Great.                                       

Walking into the room, I notice the pit is even deeper: the monitor shows she’s now breathing 36 a minute. Oxygen saturation is OK. I do a fast four minute exam and escape the room. Chest xray could be interstitial viral pneumonia or heart failure. I call the ICU doc and tell him that I have a woman who is very sick, probably has Corona and likely will need a ventilator within the hour. Then I got the biggest shock of the night: ICU doc comes down to ER and before entering the room, puts on an N95 mask (and over it a surgical mask- I think: can he breathe through all that, or are we gonna ventilate him next?) 

Me:” They told me they didn’t have an N95 for me”. 

ICU:” We have a stock of them in the ICU”. 

I am a bit shaken, but the pit further deepens when I ask the night ER doc: “I’m going to my hotel, but I’m curious. If I’d had had to intubate and ventilate this woman, where is my PAPR respirator?”  

Answer:” WE DON’T HAVE ONE FOR YOU”. He did offer to let me use his, but that’s not exactly PERSONAL protective gear. 

That was it-this ER was crawling with Coronavirus, and I had inadequate protection. I should have been too nervous to sleep, but I’d awake for 19 hours. I slept four, and awoke with a plan. First, I called my Israeli travel agent “Can you get me on tonight’s flight home?”- instead of Wednesday, in two more days. He didn’t know, he’d try- but “you should know that there’s talk of shutting down El Al after Thursday’s flight” (they did, on March 26). I felt the rope around my neck really tightening.  

In fact, all that I could think of were the Holocaust stories I’d heard as a kid, and read as a teenager and young adult: doors closing, borders shut, Jews with nowhere to go. I was in full flight mode, as in: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. I’m 69 years old, and if the 35 year olds in the ER get Corona, they’ll survive it better than I. Then, as I ate two fast pieces of cake (all I was to eat till for the next ten hours- I was running on pure adrenalin), I saw that my family had sent me, on WhatsApp, a picture of Hatzala CEO Eli Beer on a ventilator, Corona’d, in Miami, 5,000 miles from home. Not encouraging. 

I was not about to tell the ER I was not coming. I knew they’d try to talk me into coming to ER (and they did try, hours later), and that could be fatal for me.  Thank G-d for WAZE, I drove to JFK for the first time in my life. 

I returned the rental car (an extra $200 not to return it to Philly).  A call to travel agent confirmed I had a seat that night, March 23, not 25. I waited nervously for  hours for the flight, and finally got on the plane.          

So that’s how I’m on my second quarantine for 14 days as a recent arrival to the Holy Land. 

My first thought in all this is the miracle aspect of Eretz Yisrael: Israel has, by the Grace of G-d, the lowest mortality rate from Corona in the world. Just like in ancient Egypt, our plague is much milder than what the world has suffered. We have truly been Divinely guarded (Exodus 12; 42). However, the Talmud says that when a person suffers, in even the slightest way, he should examine his actions; therefore, I will return to this issue. 

So for now I get to watch the Spring from my window: birds are chirping, Nature is blooming, and I am following the advice of a wise man. If you haven’t seen the clip by Natan Sharansky on how to make use of time in solitary confinement, it’s a must see (better than Netflix).

One of his tips is to read the book you never had time for. So my choice is David Quamann’s “The Tangled Tree”: it’s a perfect fit for Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of Spring, Pesach, when Life emerges anew in Nature. Quamann’s tree is the Tree of Life, the scientific quest to understand how life emerged on earth.  

The book is a chronicle of scientific activity to classify living creatures and understand the origin of Life. As a physician, I can tell you that’s a pretty tall order, since no human yet has yet been able to perfectly define Life, or Death (thus we have BIG trouble defining the end of Life and the onset of Death). Quamann begins before Darwin, and describes the last 100 years of genetic’s and molecular biology’s advances since Darwin, “working backward to an inferred view of life in its earliest forms and dynamics.”   

The result is fascinating as a history of discovery, and fascinating for what it says about Corona. There are, of course, two versions of the Origin of Life: the Torah/Divine-Creation story, and the evolutionist version, that this world and Life came about spontaneously by chance. Had the scientists simply gone about describing the world and the processes by which the world evolved since Creation, we would all be the better off and gain practical knowledge with countless technological and medical benefits. 

the evolutionists, working backwards, now with very sophisticated tools, indulge in science fiction at an advanced level...and surmised that all living Creatures evolved from bacteria and viruses.  They’ve churned out theories of Life that always sound like this: “it’s likely that…quite probably that.. it seems that.”
However, the evolutionists, working backwards, now with very sophisticated tools, indulge in science fiction at an advanced level. Brilliant minds have looked at shared genes and shared cellular organs and surmised that all living Creatures therefore all evolved from bacteria and viruses.  They’ve churned out theories of Life that always sound like this: “it’s likely that…quite probably that.. it seems that.”

Quamann page 206: “What evidence does Woese (a famous 20th century evolutionary theorist who did believe in G-d, and used to tell his loyal secretary: “May the G-d you don’t believe in, bless you”) have for the existence and nature of his first living pro-microbe? Logic. Supposition. Informed guesswork”.   Moreover, in their hubris they speak of the “unprovable” (p. 299) as “certainty”(page 205).     

The Torah view (I lean here heavily of Rav Matis Weinberg) says that the shared genetics and molecular biology is at the basis of the Kabbalistic ideas of Chesed and Malchut. One G-d made it all by sharing (Malchut) of His Life-Force, and the shared molecular and genetic blueprint thus links all of Creation in kinship. We are all of a kind, and therefore must be kind (Chesed) to one another. Moreover, Man, at the top to the Tree of Life (Quamann describes how it’s a very tangled tree of these inter-related, shared branches) is connected to and responsible for the care of the tree (except Torah calls it the Garden; see Genesis 15;4).  

One fascinating example: syncytin. It’s a gene owned by some retroviruses that codes for a protein that both immunosuppresses and makes cells fuse together, becoming multinucleate. This gives the virus the power to induce tumors, who grow wildly and possess cells that have more than one nucleus; and power to immunosuppress the host. Yet the gene syncytin was first discovered in human placentae- and then mouse, and then all mammalian placentae. Interestingly, one layer of the placenta mediates between mother’s and fetus’s blood by fusing cells to become multinucleate, and immunosuppress so that mom’s immune system doesn’t kill this foreigner, the fetus.

Evolutionists theorize and speak of capture of viruses, with the syncytin gene being incorporated into the mammal’s DNA so that placenta’s could come into being. Problem is, how did mammals reproduce before “capture” (p.354-356)?   

The Torah has a different view: as in all these shared mechanisms across Creation, the Great Designer created it such that both virus and mammal needed the very same functions of cell fusion and immunosuppression, and so the same blueprint was used again and again throughout nature. Interestingly, in the Garden of Eden (those billions of years of pre-history and evolution) we are told in a Midrash that Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel without sex, process or pregnancy. Chazal, our Sages, describe drastic physical change in the Adam who was banished from Eden; apparently, Eve was thrust out of Eden after being told she would have to suffer childbirth and received a new ability to form placentae. She was granted new syncytin DNA.            

The practical fallout for today’s Corona pandemic? Researchers claim that by using these same techniques of molecular genetics, the Corona virus could not have been engineered by some Chinese scientist, but must be a natural virus. However, when one reads their logic, it too is filled with the same “likely..probably…seems to have” talk that characterizes the evolutionists.

Simply put: the technique does not allow one to “work backwards to see the ”origins of life"- not four months to Wuhan province, China- nor 13 billion years to the Origin of Life. There is no proof in modern genomics to allow one to see the past with certainty. As the Lord asked Job: “Where were you when I created the Universe?” (38; 4).

The evolutionists, however, have evolved into some real scoffers and skeptical atheists. One of the most entertaining is Prof. Richard Dawkins. I wouldn’t waste my money on his books, but I did thumb through his “Delusion” book. For example, he cites the Ten Commandments, “Thou Shall Not Kill”, and snickers: “ I guess up to then it was OK to kill”(heh,heh). Yet any six year old child in a Jewish school knows that “Thou shall not kill” was told to Adam 2,448 years before Mount Sinai’s Ten Commandments, in the Noahide Commandments of Genesis (further explained in the Talmud). 

Finally, a Jew has to say that there is a Divine dimension to reality, that this world is not purely physical in nature. This leads me to pursue the most blatant spiritual deficiencies of our times, and say again that in the light of the Corona plague, we must fix the world that we share, are connected to, and are responsible for.  The obvious problems: 

-Hedonism. This is rampant in both the non-Jewish and the Jewish worlds, and is directly linked to:

-Jews not making Aliya. Lord knows, Aliya is tough, but as Rav Teichtal, later killed by the Nazis, said in his book Eim Habonim Semeicha, the Holocaust was punishment for Jews not returning to the Holy Land; 

-Scoffers and skeptics: We live in a post-Modern world of no absolute truth, moral relativism, and a strong smart-alecky arrogance. When Quamann quotes the biologists that humans possessing viral and bacterial genes has led to blurring of the individual’s sense of identity, he strikes at a major problem: both in physics and biology, modern Man has confused the macro and the micro worlds.

Anyone learning the Tanya or a little Kabbala, knows that the Jew lives in several universes at once, and that the rules in one world do not flow easily from the other, even seem to contradict each other. Titus the Roman saw only the stones of the Jewish Temple; but the Jews also saw Jacob’s ladder to Heaven there, a portal to Holy Realms that the Roman could never appreciate.

The Jew lives in both worlds, shares with each world that he lives in, and cares responsibly for both. Seeing his blurred identity, his DNA shared with viruses and bacteria and all creatures, modern Man even battles his very DNA, surgically turning man into woman, and marrying man to man.

May the post-Corona world see a return to responsible, humble living; to a return to the Land of Israel, and an appreciation of her emergent, holy qualities by all those living here; and may we all work to see every human being realize his very own, full potential in a springtime flowering of Life on Earth.