Kenneth Cohen

Faithless Leaders In Time Of Crisis

The current Corona crisis is very stressful and challenging for all. What is needed at this time, are leaders able to guide us with optimism and hope, while directing us practically how to beat this disease. It is most disturbing to hear continuous prophecies of doom, night after night from our prime minister and health department officials. They have demonstrated a complete lack of faith, and are greatly harming the morale of the Jewish people.

Wouldn’t an address to the nation be far more effective, if it began with some words of encouragement? For example, “With G-d’s help we have successfully managed to avoid not even one fatality. Indications are that those carrying the virus, will all be cured. We are so grateful to G-d for His goodness. Let us pray that we continue to receive His blessings of benevolence and kindness. Nevertheless, we must do our part to be certain the Corona virus will not spread by taking the necessary precautions.”

Contrast this to what we heard from the faithless member of the Ministry of Health, when he said that “thousands will die in Israel.” What gives him the right to play G-d and make such horrible predictions? The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that a doctor is given the right to heal, not decree how long one will live! I fear that such ongoing negativity, will have the reverse effect, and people will not take them seriously.

Instead of giving an empty statement saying that we’ve weathered other storms, and we will overcome this, why not refer to our history and the resiliency of the Jewish people, only because of Divine help. We are living proof of the miracle of the survival of a people under the bleakest conditions. We have survived holocausts, expulsions, and every form of persecution imaginable, and with G-d’s help, we overcame. Such words give strength and help avoid feelings of despair.

Why is it unacceptable for a Jewish leader to encourage people to pray, and a Gentile American president is able to call for a day of prayer? It is at times like these where one is able to reap the benefits of living a life of religious observance. His spiritual convictions allow him to understand the power of prayer, and even in the darkest hours, salvation can come in a moment. When one studies Torah, he connects to other instances where a bleak situation turned into one of great joy.

One such example was celebrated last week when we observed the holiday of Purim. It was only due to the unity, fasting, and prayer, of the Jewish people, that changed the evil decree of Haman, to a day of rejoicing. On Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah ran away as he thought the people of Nineveh were deserving of punishment. When they were warned that they had three days to repent, they did so, and were saved.

In Egypt, we are taught that a majority of Jews were idol worshippers, but when their sincere cries of the pain of their servitude reached the Heavens, G-d had mercy, and we were redeemed. This teaches that sincere prayer coming from any Jew, can pierce the Heavens, as well. The Corona virus has taught that the entire world can be brought to its knees, if The Holy One Blessed Be He, so decrees. If that is the case, the decree will end speedily, if every Jew was encouraged to pour out his heart in prayer to our Father in Heaven.

I believe that I am expressing the frustration of many of us, in seeing how this crisis is being handled. I am not questioning whether or not the steps taken will be effective. But I am questioning the faithless leadership that needs to give hope and inspiration during these difficult times. May we all pray from the depths of our hearts, that we be able to celebrate the coming Holiday of Freedom, Passover, in freedom, and not locked up in our homes.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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