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Why the Coronavirus?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

We do not have the gift of prophecy today and, therefore, cannot be sure of the spiritual reasons why God has brought the coronavirus upon mankind at this time. Nonetheless, it is clear from our sages that when great trials and tribulations affect us, we are commanded to introspect, search for possible spiritual causes and correct them.

The coronavirus epidemic has practically impacted the entire globe. As I write this, cities are enforcing curfews on their inhabitants, and we have all been encouraged to practice social distancing. What is it that is distancing us? A potentially lethal virus that is not visible to the naked eye. While considering the above, a specific Torah passage comes to mind.

In chapter 11 of Genesis, the Torah describes how the population of the entire earth spoke one language. They set out to build a city with a huge central tower in Babylon. The purpose of this central city was to prevent people from being scattered upon the face of Earth. The Torah describes how God was displeased with their plans. God divided them into different peoples with different languages and scattered them upon the face of the earth. The text does not explicitly state the cause of God’s displeasure or why God divided and scattered humanity.

Our sages explain (see Rashi, Midrashim) that humankind realized that it was vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the great flood that occurred in Noah’s generation. To alleviate this feeling of vulnerability, mankind decided to form a united and cohesive community that, together, would have the ability to fight off floods, diseases, and other natural disasters. As a united force, people were confident that they could conquer any natural obstacle and, therefore, would no longer feel vulnerable.

God was displeased with their plans. Their aspirations caused them to feel a sense of complete control and gave them an almost smug confidence that they could conquer any challenge. Humankind could solve every challenge and God would no longer be needed in their lives. They would have no deficiencies and, therefore, would have no need to turn to God as a source of redemption and salvation.

Our global society has made astounding progress in the areas of technology and medicine. Every day, scientists in our laboratories discover cures for illnesses that have plagued mankind for centuries. Perhaps we have put too much of our faith in our global human society and forgotten that we are truly dependent on God almighty. Perhaps after years of advancement of our global village, God is knocking on our door and reminding us that we are not as powerful as we had thought. We are being humbled and made to feel incredibly vulnerable again. The medical answer is to find antivirals and vaccines. The spiritual answer is to call out to God in prayer and deeply realize that our destinies are in His hands alone.

Let us consider what is occurring. We are forced to separate from one another and can only stand back and watch our entire civilization of activity and scientific advancement being brought to its knees by a tiny, invisible entity. Let us be humbled and, along with taking the essential physical protective measures, return our hearts to our Father in heaven.