March 31, 2020, Israel, Chinese Coronavirus Times)
Disclaimer: No disrespect at all intended here towards Science, scientists, doctors, or medicine. Science and respect for history, God, tradition, are not a contradiction. This is simply a look at our Biblical tradition and acknowledging the remarkable wisdom contained therein. We believe that medicine, science and research are essential to our progress, (and in fact mandated in the Torah) but we must understand that there is great wisdom that preceded us, and we cannot ignore this. For those who believe in a higher power, a creator, than clearly the Creator had an understanding of His creation. We see the Bible as being as relevant today as always.
I was in high school, Yeshiva high school; as we walked into class one morning we saw our teacher, Rabbi Wehl, as usual hovering over his old volume of Talmud, taking advantage of every minute. Time was holy, the Torah is holy, not a moment is to be wasted. We boys were very excited, There was a movie out that claimed that the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark was true. Evidence had been found in eastern Turkey of the ancient ark, scientific testing proved that the age matched the Biblical account, the petrified wood, the remnants of sea life in rocks. The length of the boat, support beams, the entire structure, erosion levels, everything matched. Apparently the story was true. Excitedly we told our teacher; Scientists have proven that what we have been believing all these years, is actually true.
I shall never forget his look, his expression, and the lesson. He lazily picked up his head for just a moment, as if the great news was just a trifle, Nu, azoy, (Really? is that so? Yiddish) Such as ...that is your big news? So the scientists have finally understood and proven one little piece of our Torah (Bible), good. I needed them to teach me that? Gnug, enough, let's open our Talmud and start studying, enough time wasted on this triviality.
The message was, we believe, we have believed for thousands of years without any doubt. We don't need a "Johnny come lately" scientist to validate our Torah. We believe the Scriptures and follow them when it makes sense to us and when it does not, we hold these truths to be self evident. And we know that others will see our ways as outdated, primitive superstitions. That does not bother us one iota, eventually they will see the truth. Time is on our side.
For generations religion went unchallenged, for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Many events, such as the Black Death, challenged the authority of religion. If such tragedies can happen and the religious orders are powerless to stop it, than of what value can religion be. The 1346- 1353 Black Death plague that came from China was the first crack in the power of the Church. For Jews suffering was a given and the Plague was just another opportunity for the Europeans to slaughter the Jews in order to "appease God".
With new discoveries mans' faith was challenged, legitimate questions arose, many religious institutions were indeed very corrupt, the peasants were indeed abused. In many cases Religion was indeed the opium of the masses. But sadly they threw out the baby with the bathwater. God and the Torah were dismissed as worthless ancient superstition.
Modern man is so smart and advanced. At a certain point in history man became enlightened. He "understood" the fallacy of religion. He understood that ancient primitive man saw a world that he did not understand, that he could not comprehend, he saw events that he could not control; famine, disease, plagues, rain, sunshine, prosperity, and he tried to make sense of it. The argument continues... and so Primitive Man invented God and angels, and religion to attempt to make sense of it all. After all he did not have science. These primitive attempts at understanding the universe, these superstitions, eventually came to be known as religion. Primitive man, we can study him and marvel at his naivety.
Enlightened man found science and with science he found all the answers. He could now make sense of everything and mock and ridicule all that came before him. He knew it all. He was enlightened.
Only he was not. His arrogance filled the earth as he began to systematically destroy it. Little man, whom a tiny microbe that cannot be seen by the human eye, can send him into unspeakable pain, stood up to God and defied him and his instructions. Friedrich Nietzsche said, "God is dead" but God said...Nietzsche is dead. (and remains so to this very day)
As the Talmud warned us...an insect preceded you in the act of creation, (Talmud, Sanhedrin page 38). How the mighty shall be humbled. (He humbles the arrogant down to the earth, Daily prayers)
Chinese Coronavirus Times
As I read my Talmud today I come across this less...certain articles (objects) can conduct, or transmit, impurity and certain one's cannot.
..and whatever comes forth from a tree cannot be defiled with the uncleanliness of tents, except linen. (Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, page 27B)
What foolishness, the atheist will argue! How primitive of ancient man? Why do these foolish Jews continue to study the Talmud and the Torah? Enough of this baseless superstition.
And yet these days I hear everyone talking....Coronavirus; plastic holds on to germ for a few hours, metal surface, cardboard boxes...clothing does not hold on to the germ. They are talking Talmud but they don't even know it! This is the Talmud lesson I came across today, some surfaces transmit impurity and some do not, some require cleansing and some do not, and I marvel at the wisdom of our creator, and I stand in awe of the ancient rabbis of the Talmud, and look with admiration to those stubborn "Polish Jews", the Ost Juden, the Eastern Jews, who refused to budge in the face of modernity, who clung to the belief that is contained in the Talmud. Praised be the Torah and praised be those that devote themselves to its study.
My Bar Mitzvah, the reading of WaYikra, Leviticus
It was my Bar Mitzvah, when a Jewish boy turns 13 and enters the covenant and the community of the Nation of Israel. One of the key elements of this event is the classic Bar Mitzvah speech where the nervous young man stands in front of the crowd, and for the first time in his young life, delivers a speech. But it is not just any speech or any crowd, for this debut speech you are facing your parents, your grandparents, the rabbi, the elders of the community and all the guests. To use a common expression, it is a Baptism by fire.
The Five books of Moses are divided by the number of weeks of the year, each week we read what is called the Parasha, or the section. One's bar mitzvah is always referred to by the weekly Torah reading of that week. Mine was the first section of the book of Leviticus. (WaYikra, and Moshe called). For me this was very appropriate and perfect timing for I am a direct descent of Aharon the High Priest, the Cohen, the brother of Moses (Moshe) and the this portion of the Torah deals with the rituals which are assigned to our clan ..the Sons of Aharon, the Cohanim, shall light a fire...(verse 7), The sons of Aharon..will arrange the sacrifice (verse 8). I began my speech with this connection; my bar mitzvah falls on the exact chapter that details the special obligations of the sons of Aharon, and that is me. On this day I join this clan and take my responsibility.
Now the book of Leviticus is not one of the "fun" books of the Bible, it does not make for good children's stories. In fact it is the most challenging book of the Five Books of Moses. And the laws, well, they don't go over very well in the modern world. There are all sorts of regulations about food, clothing, houses, the bizarre concept of "Clean and unclean, pure and contaminated". Remember this was written thousands of years ago before any of these concepts was known to modern science. There was no concept of transmitters, conductors of electricity, contamination. In fact only in recent history did doctors discover that they should be washing their hands between patients and sterilizing their equipment. We have been doing this for 3,700 years.
And in light of the current virus that has paralyzed the world in a matter of weeks, that has brought travel to an end, that has quarantined most of the worlds population, that has humbled mankind and brought him to his knees, I look at the ancient scriptures and think...Ah Ha! The answers have been there all along.
29 “Of the animals that move along the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, 30 the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon. 31 Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you. Whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean till evening."
and we learn about levels or degrees of impurity, first and second degree;
32 When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean. 33 If one of them falls into a clay pot, everything in it will be unclean, and you must break the pot. 34 Any food you are allowed to eat that has come into contact with water from any such pot is unclean, and any liquid that is drunk from such a pot is unclean. 35 Anything that one of their carcasses falls on becomes unclean; an oven or cooking pot must be broken up. They are unclean, and you are to regard them as unclean.
The rabbis teach that the utensil which came into contact with an unclean animal is regarded as "First level contamination" and thus has the ability to pass on the contamination to the liquids or food which is in it. These foods or liquids are regarded as "secondary contamination" and have less of an ability to transit impurity (complicated rabbinic discussions on this topic).
36 "A spring, however, or a cistern for collecting water, wherein there is plenty of water, remains clean, but anyone who touches one of these carcasses is unclean. 37 If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. 38 But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you." (Leviticus Chapter 11)
To the uninitiated all this may have appeared to be nonsensical superstitious writings but who is laughing now? This is the only topic of the day on the street...is the Chinese virus airborne? Does clothing pass on the virus? What about the handle of the shopping cart? and our forefathers in heaven are smiling at each other...it was only a matter of time.
41 “Every creature that moves along the ground is to be regarded as unclean; an abomination! it is not to be eaten. 42 You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. These are an abomination. 43 Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. 44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. " (Leviticus Chapter 11)
Is this beginning to sound relevant?
46 "These are the regulations concerning beasts, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that creeps along the ground. 47 You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten."(Leviticus Chapter 11)
These days everyone is talking about keeping their house very clean, door handles etc. We also know that certain mildews can cause an epidemic. In midlevel Europe and in more recent history contaminated homes were burnt. In San Francisco the entire Chinatown was burnt down during the Bubonic plaque of 1900.
35 the owner of the house must go and tell the priest (the Cohen) I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold, as if it were a plaque in my house.
36 The priest/Cohen is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mold, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean. After this the priest is to go in and inspect the house.
37 He is to examine the mold on the walls, and if it has greenish or reddish depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall,
38 the priest shall go out the doorway of the house and close it up for seven days. (shut up the house)
39 On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the mold has spread on the walls,
40 he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town.
41 He must have all the inside walls of the house scraped and the material that is scraped off dumped into an unclean place outside the town.
(Leviticus, Chapter 14)
Seem very similar to "containing the plague".
We have seen in the Wuhan "wet markets" how animals from diverse parts of the world were brought together, in close proximity. Medical experts tell us this is unnatural and causes viruses to spread. Animals that have no place being together are suddenly near each other, this causes fear and anxiety. A virus that might be harmless in one becomes deadly in another.
9: Do not plant two kinds of seed (diverse seeds) in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled.
10 Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together."
(Deuteronomy Chapter 22)
I did not grow up in a Yiddish speaking household but I was in enough homes were Yiddish was interspersed with English that the phrase Vashn di hent, wash the hands, was a constant. Of course in modern times this is not only a Jewish practice, but for many years since the decline of the Roman Empire until relatively recently, personal hygiend was very much neglected.In the book "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" the author writes " The religious aspects of bathing were carried to greater lengths by the Jews under Mosaic Law, for whom bodily cleanliness was equated with moral purity. Under the rule of David and Solomon, from about 1000 to 903 B.C.E. complex public water works were constructed throughout Israel."(Charles Panati, page 200) This has remained an integral part of our lives. As the book said, for us it was a religious matter, not one dependent on medical or scientific proof.
"God the eternal spoke to Moshe as follows: Make a bronze basin, with a bronze stand, for washing. Put it between the Tent of the Assembly and the alter for burnt offerings, put water in it. and Aharon and his sons and their successors shall wash their hands and their feet in it. When they enter into the Tent of the Assembly to render service they shall wash with water, lest they die....this shall be an everlasting decree ...for all generations. (Exodus, Chapter 30)
Does this sound like current government regulations for the current plague? Well this was written about, 3,300 years ago.
The rabbis of the Talmud expounded these lessons and applied them to all of Israel, not only the descendants of Aharon the Cohen. Jewish law goes into great detail about ritual purity and cleanliness, again, this is often mocked by modern thinkers.
The rabbis established that a person must wash their hands in the morning (Negel vasser in Yiddish: Negel vasser literally means “nail water,” and refers to the observance of washing our hands directly after waking up. One fills a cup with water and pours it on ech hand, alternating between them so that each hand is washed three times) as one's hands might have accidently touched something unclean during the night. Again, sounds a lot like what we are being told these days. Funny how adults need on line videos to teach them how to wash their hands.
In Judaism there are complex laws for washing hands, as there are for every aspect of life. As Tevya says in Fiddler on the roof, "Tradition; How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear cloths, for instance we always keep our heads covered and we always wear a little prayer shawl" He says this is how we keep our balance, but there are more meanings that we can not possible understand. This attention to details and the minutia of the law have caused Jewish Biblical traditions to be mocked by the modern man. After all, we are so much smarter these days. Well, we just got hit pretty hard, so how smart are me really?
Masada is a fortress built in the Judean desert. It was used for various purposes throughout history, most famously as the last stand of the Jewish rebels in the first Jewish - Roman war. When we visit Masada during our Tour and Train program, we always visit the museum. In the museum you will find many interesting artifacts, some will only make sense if you understand Biblical law. They have mugs made of stone, why carry heavy stone eating utensils up the mountain? The reason is that according to Biblical law stone does not transfer impurity while clay does. Thus we see that the Jews on Masada, facing the Roman legions who had put a siege on the mountain, continued to abide strictly by Biblical law. They also built ritual baths according to the exact Biblical dimensions, which have remained unchanged to this very day. The findings at Masada show that the laws they observed are the same as those in the Talmud and the same observed to this very day. They followed these laws without any knowledge of modern science or medicine.
IKI Tour and Train at Masada, with guest Frank Dux
What other truths are hidden in the Torah, diligently studied by the faithful but out of favor with the modern man? How many years shall pass, what crises must arise until the knowledge of the Lord fills the land as the water covers the seas?
"They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas" (Isiah Chapter 11, verse 9)
The devout among us believe that the world is sustained by the study of the Torah, the scriptures. In times of crises, not only does action need to be taken (such as military action, rescue missions and so forth) but extra Torah study is seen as essential. This idea of course is mocked by the modern man who sees this is a waste of time, but perhaps the ancients knew something that we have lost today? Perhaps not all that came before us was foolishness?
We are in the midst of a crisis, so far no solution has been found other than the same methods that were used 700 years ago. The medical world and scientific researches are baffled, perhaps it is time for some humility on our part. And perhaps the man who rises up in prayer knows whom he is speaking with. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Israeli soldier holds the holy Torah at Birkenau concentration camp, Poland