Daas Torah on Covid-19
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America, has shared its wisdom and guidance regarding the Covid pandemic. And if there's ever been a situation in this generation which has called for such wisdom and guidance, it's this. The pandemic has already been devastating the world for a year, with a particularly distressing, disproportionately high rate of sickness and deaths in charedi communities worldwide. And as the Gedolim point out:
It is clear that there is upon our nation an appeal from Heaven to correct our ways. Every person must examine his behavior and strengthen whatever may be lacking. But, in addition to that, the public – as a tzibbur – must examine its collective actions and lifestyle. We therefore feel it important to bring up a fundamental and broad point on which the public should now focus.
Finally! Strong Torah leadership about how chareidi communities, to a disturbing degree, have not cared to prevent the mass crowded gatherings which drove up the infection rate. About how they have not cared to wear masks or to keep infected people in quarantine. About how despite the principle that "all Jews are responsible for each other," people have not cared about those in their communities who are especially vulnerable to Covid, or who suffer from the resultant lockdowns. About how they have not cared to follow laws about precautions, nor cared about the deaths and chillul Hashem they have caused. About how even now, the rate of vaccination among the charedi community is far less than in the general public. After a year of tepid responses by Torah leadership, we now have a Kol Korei making the declaration that has been so desperately needed!
Ha! Unfortunately, though perhaps all too predictably, that's not what they say at all. Instead, the "fundamental and broad point on which the public should now focus" is something else altogether:
Klal Yisroel is a “nation of princes and a holy people.” The dedication of our people to Torah learning and to raising thousands upon thousands of families on the foundations of Torah and service to Hashem should be proclaimed far and wide! It is only the nation of princes, the holy people, who can do this despite the influence of the culture surrounding us. How fortunate are we, and how good is our lot!
However, we must remember that the meaning of “a holy people” is a people who – as Ramban, Vayikra 19:2 explains – distance themselves from the pursuit of excess. It is greatly concerning to us that if one examines our community’s lifestyle we see that there is much to improve in this area, as reflected, for example, in the advertisements in periodicals.
There are amongst us people who, notwithstanding their care with mitzvos, pursue fine foods and expensive vacations; they boast of their clothing and furniture; they are swayed by the triviality and bad of unfiltered smartphones and internet. Those who are engaged in these pursuits have turned from the lifestyle that was always a characteristic sign of the chareidi Jew: a modest life centered around Torah, service to Hashem, and kindness to others; a life purposed on being close to Hashem. All Jews are responsible for one another; we must all repent on this direction.
Certainly, in this time of danger, we must act with great care for the health of our communities. It is, however, also a holy obligation on us to uproot this spiritual danger from amongst ourselves and to return to being a holy nation to Hashem.
We turn to the Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbanim – the eyes of the community – and to all leaders in every community: Seek ways to inspire your yeshivos and shuls to return to what was; not to allow the Jewish nation to descend into the trap of a life of materialism. Through this we will remain a nation of princes and holy people, in the full meaning of the words.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of calling for people to cut down on excessive materialism. But to make this the focus of a Covid-19 Kol Korei?! This is what examining the collective actions and lifestyle of the charedi community calls for in light of all the sickness and deaths?
As I said to Rav Aharon Feldman many years ago, when he complained to me that I had "successfully made the Gedolim look like fools": It's not me or anyone else. They do it all by themselves.
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