By Rabbi YOSEF BENARROCH, Adas-Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation
These have been trying times. The coronavirus has changed our lives in a way we never imagined. But there is an upside to all of this. As our society gradually turns inward and shuts down, religion is turning outwards and revving up. That may sound strange but think of the following. Online prayers services and classes are booming on Zoom and other programs. People around the world are logging on in unprecedented numbers to pray and to study Torah together. Case in point, our synagogue as is the case with all others in Winnipeg, is closed. That is our building is closed, but our activities are far from closed. We are broadcasting Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv every day. All our weekly classes are available on Zoom. This past Motzai Shabbat we had a communal Havdalah service and over forty people participated. The coronavirus may be shutting down our society but it cannot shut down our spirits. With that said I would like to share a Dvar Torah with all of you a coronavirus silver lining so to speak.
The Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin 38a relates the following, “The Sages taught: Adam (the first man) was created on Shabbat eve (on the sixth day of Creation after everything else was created). Why was this so? He was created on Shabbat eve so that if a person becomes haughty, God can say to him: The mosquito preceded you in the acts of Creation, as you were created last”.
The Talmud knew human nature all too well. We are experts at haughtiness. We like to think that we know everything, can control everything, that nothing is beyond our grasp. The past few weeks have shown us just how untrue this is. A small virus, unable to be seen by the human eye has brought us to our knees. It has humbled us and we are better for it.
But lets go back to the Talmud. It too talks about being humbled, not by the coronavirus but by a small little mosquito. But why of all the creatures did the Talmud choose the mosquito? Surely there are many other creatures that are nuisances to chose from. The Talmud explains that the mosquito has a unique quality, “It takes in but it does not give out”. The mosquito, at least according to our Talmudic Rabbi’s produces no waste that the human eye can see. It is a creature that sucks our blood, hunts it’s food, but give nothing of itself.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his monumental work “Tanya” explains that the mosquito represents the antithesis of holiness (Kedusha). Humans, who have the capacity to give are on one end of the holiness spectrum capable of reaching the greatest heights of holiness, while the mosquito, that takes but does not give, is at the other end of the spectrum completely devoid of holiness. Rabbi Shneur Zalman gives us a unique definition of holiness. It has to do with our ability to give and contribute. It has to do with our capacity to love and help others, to think about others. Self centredness, greed, only thinking of oneself is the antithesis of holiness. The coronavirus is much the same. It cannot live on it’s own. It is a predator that requires a host to invade. It takes but gives nothing.
Sometimes it takes something so small to teach us how to be holy. In the words of the “Tanya” holiness is intrinsically connected to our giving, to what we contribute, to the way we better the world through our giving.
Yes the tiny coronavirus may have humbled us, but it has also brought out the best in us. It has forced us to rise to the occasion. To realize we are all in this together and the more we do for each other the better off we all are. This is the first time in my lifetime that I can remember all of humanity thinking of one another, all of humanity wishing the best on one another. The thought that around the world scientists are trying to collectively find a cure for ALL of humanity is an awesome thought. The thought that each one of us is taking measures not just to keep ourselves safe but to keep everyone else safe is an awesome thought.
Yes like the little mosquito is supposed to remind us of that message, the coronavirus has reminded us. The coronavirus has reminded us to love again, to think of others, to realize there is no you and me just US. It has reminded us that when we stand together and united we are at our best.
Wishing you all good health
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch
Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue