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There are many plagues in the Bible, comparable in some ways to the plague of the coronavirus the world is dealing with today.
On Wednesday night Jews around the world began celebrating Passover, a holiday that includes a focus on the 10 plagues inflicted on the ancient Egyptians by God, leading ultimately to the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.
The ancient plagues included: changing water to blood, frogs, insects, wild animals, pestilence of livestock, boils, hail storms, locusts, darkness – and finally, death of the firstborn.
During the Passover Seders, Jews remember these plagues by pouring out a drop of wine for each one, a practice my father, now age 96, always refused to observe. This refusal always stood out to me as a young child who otherwise saw the Seder as a tedious ritual that stretched on into the night.
“I will not celebrate the torturing of other humans for any reason, even the liberation of our people,” my father said during one of those Seders in my childhood.
Perhaps God agreed. A little over two weeks ago in Florida, my father suddenly developed fever, profound weakness, and a cough, and I could hear him over the phone having mild shortness of breath. He told me he thought this might be the end. He couldn’t muster the strength to rise from the couch.
I knew right away what this was and his cardiologist agreed to hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, and by the next day my father was already feeling much better, a modern medical miracle.
A plague is upon us and my father was passed over.
On Wednesday night on the first Seder, I commemorated the 10 plagues the way that the Seder specifies – not to go against my father’s wisdom, but because it is a good way to remember that God may afflict all of us with plagues at any time, including right now. I raised a glass to my father’s recovering health.
The current plague of the coronavirus, ironically enough, is being combated with ancient measures that were once used to fight biblical plagues, including social isolation and sheltering in place. These techniques appear to be slowly working, combined with handwashing, disinfecting, and social distancing when out in public.
We must care for our elderly and treat their social isolation with delivered food, good cheer, plenty of phone calls, FaceTime and virtual Seders.
I am having my own Seder around a large table this year, observing social distancing rules even among my own family. My friends who are usually with us were afraid to make the trip.
Whether this brave new world will be enough to defeat the coronavirus plague has a lot to do with the virus itself, the heroics of our health care workers, the biotechnology of testing, and most of all, the intention of the Almighty.
We should pray for the rapid ending of the new coronavirus plague and for our freedom from it. It is humbling to realize that despite all of our best intentions and scientific knowhow, our best bet is to bond together and to work towards a shared public health solution while bowing to the will of God.
Such is the lesson of this year’s first Seder. Peace and good health to all.