There is little doubt that the world as we know it has been changed by the coronavirus. But there is also a very real human understanding that as people we have very short memories and the lessons that we take from an individual experience can be forgotten far more quickly than one could ever imagine.
As Jewish people, we learned this lesson very early on in our history. Just forty days after we received the Torah at Har Sinai, arguably the most spiritually powerful experience in our national collective, the people committed the sin of the Golden Calf. In less than a month-and-a-half, we went from the heights of holiness to the depths of idolatry.
It is therefore critical that we take this opportunity to increase our focus on maximizing the potential of the various positives that can be gleaned from the current place in time.
There are several prominent ethical and moral ideals that could and should be leveraged when we ask ourselves what can be learned from this experience.
The first is a critical reminder of just how little control we have over the vastness of the universe in which we live. While we have been brought into the world in the image of God and have the ability to impact on our surroundings in countless ways, humanity can be devastated and stopped in its tracks by a minuscule virus. This is a painful, yet important, lesson in humility about our position in the world.
At the same time, our ability to overcome a pandemic whether through science or human intervention serves to teach an equally important lesson that God has given us tools to deal with chaos and tragedy and we should be thankful for that as well.
This humility, which has certainly been reinforced during these last few months, extends to material items as well. We simply don’t need all that we thought we needed. We can survive and actually thrive with much more simplicity and this experience should drive us to reexamine certain aspects of our lifestyle that have become overly defined by consumerism and materialism. While we certainly, and legitimately, miss large interactions and entertainment, our ability to exist during this period without those elements of modern life prove that we don’t need them in the degrees that we might have once thought.
Similarly, how we interact with others has changed and we have been forced to find new ways to establish human bonds that didn’t rely on being the same physical spaces as one another.
Within our homes, many of us spent far more time than ever before with our fellow family members. While at times this may have led to a degree of stress, it also reinvigorated values of family time and respecting those we love.
By being forced to see so many people deal with this time alone- mostly the elderly - we were provided with a very real lesson in compassion in how we interacted with that community and worked to ensure their needs were being addressed.
We have also learned about how even as our world remains ever-more globalized, individual nations retain their own identities and abilities to counter threats. So while the disease was able to spread in our global world, the fact that each nation (and sometimes states within nations) are fighting the pandemic in different ways inspired a new approach to national identity and pride.
The underlying lesson that emerges from corona therefore might be that everything that God gives us has the ability to be perceived from multiple viewpoints. While certainly the cost to human life and economic productivity from this crisis has been tragic, we would be failing ourselves and future generations if we don’t identify the potential positives.
In so doing, we can ensure that our human village will be strengthened in ways we might have never anticipated.
It is now incumbent upon us to ensure that we leverage these lessons. Because if we fail to embrace the chance to learn from this episode, we don’t know when such an opportunity will come along again.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is the director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics and a cofounder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel.