Coronavirus — What Would Esther Do?

When the Jewish people were faced with an existential crisis, Mordechai called upon Esther to use her influence with the king.  What would be the rational approach to such a mission?  It would be sensible to get briefed on all the communities under threat, maybe to get some intelligence on Haman and his cronies.  But that was not Esther’s first response.  She fasted and called upon the Jewish people to fast.  Although Hashem’s name is not mentioned explicitly in the Megillah, it is clear that Esther understood where the salvation truly came from.

We are in the midst of a world crisis, which runs the risk of turning into a pandemic with a faster spread than any other in history.  We must exercise all precautions to avoid aiding the spread of the virus.  With Zachor this Shabbat and Purim coming up in the week ahead, we need to ensure that we are doing our utmost to keep everyone safe.

When my husband was a child, he would go around shul shaking hands with every man in the shul.  There was one fellow, Mr. Ainsworth, who would refuse to shake.  “You can say Good Shabbos without a handshake,” he would tell him each week.

Friends, this week, we are all Mr. Ainsworth.  We’re going to say Good Shabbos to one another without shaking.  We are going to say ‘yasher koach’ without shaking.  We are going to air-touch the Sefer Torah, before kissing our talleisim.  And if we’re using a shul tallis, we’re not going to kiss it directly.  Likewise, when we close our siddurim and chumashim, we’ll air kiss, without actual contact.

For those who are fearful of coming to shul to hear the Megillah, we’re going to be live-streaming the reading on our Facebook page.  While this is not the ideal way to listen, leading poskim (halachic authorities) have ruled that, given the emergency circumstances, those who need to, may rely on the lenient opinion. Since Megillah is a rabbinic mitzvah, the lenient position is that one may fulfil one’s obligation over a live feed, without being physically present.

What can we do to be proactive in terms of combating the virus?  We must follow Esther’s lead.  Not only do we take physical precautions, but we take spiritual steps to annulling the terrifying decree.  We call upon everyone (above the age of bat and bar mitzvah) to observe the Fast of Esther this Monday.  If you are physically weak, or at an age of greater susceptibility to the virus, you should not fast; rather you should give to tzedakah an amount of money equivalent to that which you spend on food that day (thereby spiritually ‘offsetting’ the eating).

The miracle of Purim is summed up with the term, ‘Venahafoch hu’ – everything turned around, a transformation occurred.  Instead of annihilating us, our enemies were executed.  This Purim, may we merit ‘Venahafoch hu’ – a transformation from global panic and uncertainty to lives of good health, economic prosperity, and increased love between individuals and nations, resulting from these moments when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder as we face the invisible enemy that threatens us all.

About the Author
Rabbanit Batya Friedman is the senior rebbetzin of Hamsptead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London, UK. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Brooklyn College and her MBA from the University of Alberta. She previously served the community in Edmonton, AB Canada.
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