By: Cllr Brian Gordon
There is a deep underlying message behind the current devastating health crisis. It is that we human beings do not run this world. Technological advancement, instant global communication and scientific achievement may lead many to believe that we do. Then, from time to time the Almighty sends a thunderbolt that shakes the planet to its foundations, so to speak, and reminds us who really is Boss.
Throughout history this has been the case. From Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel, The Giving of the Torah, the Destruction of the Temples, through to last century’s massive two World Wars. All were cataclysmic events with colossal repercussions for humanity. They were not just accidents of history. They were events from which we have to learn lessons – for ourselves and for future generations.
With all its trauma, suffering and tragedy, we have to see a positive side to the lockdown and isolation imposed on us all. For Jews it provides an opportunity for those suddenly with more time on their hands than before to strengthen their observance of mitzvos and to come closer to the Creator. To increase their hours of Torah learning, using the technology at their disposal to its most positive effect. To consciously avoid “loshon hora” (bad speech), which the world’s leading sage Rav Chaim Kanievsky recently declared to be the most powerful weapon in defeating the current virus.
It’s an opportunity for people of all faiths to intensify their prayers for the terrible virus to be removed from the face of the earth , for the indiscriminate illness and death toll to end. It is frustrating and painful, to say the least, for people to be unable to attend their dedicated places of worship to recite those prayers. However the Almighty has Himself created the circumstances of that deprivation for a reason. He still waits for us to cry out to Him. The heartfelt individual prayers of millions of people in a spirit of “virtual” collectivity will surely penetrate to the uppermost reaches.
Equal to that, the isolation is an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to increase their acts of kindness and generosity towards others who feel terribly lonely and abandoned and are genuinely in need. For family and friends to become closer and more caring – even if this can only be done through telephones and computers.
Those of who reside in the London Borough of Barnet are specially placed to take the lead in demonstrating all these values of faith, friendship and goodwill. Our Borough has by far the largest Jewish population in the entire UK, with more Shuls, schools and communal institutions than any other. Our communities are highly loyal and disciplined in following the decisions of their Rabbis . This was evidenced by the closure of all Shuls without exception as soon as the respective rabbinical authorities published an order to this effect. There were no protests, arguments or underhand efforts to defy the rulings.
On the wider level, there is more to say. Barnet is the most multi-cultural of all London Boroughs. People of numerous faiths and backgrounds live here together in harmony and mutual respect. They do so not because the Council tells them to, though mutual tolerance and social cohesion is very much part of the Council’s ethos. Nor do they do so because of doctrines of political correctness. There is simply a prevailing attitude that this is a decent , civilised way to behave , in a country which thankfully still remains true to its free and democratic traditions.
With Pesach almost upon us we will soon be striving to remove all our Chametz and cleanse our homes both physically and spiritually. The removal of the Coronavirus is likely to take somewhat longer. But our plea for the eradication of this scourge will surely sound an extra note of poignancy in every Jewish home when we recite the Ten Plagues at this year’s Seder .