G-d is in control, is a mantra I have long lived with, but it came into sharp relief in the recent past. Last week, my family and I emerged from quarantine. Everyone in our household tested positive for COVID and thank G-d, we all recovered. We are most grateful for a particularly light case compared to many in our age group.
Considering the surge of cases in countries around the world, it is not surprising that my family contracted the virus. Yes, we were careful, and we followed all the guidelines, but we got it anyway. Moreover, we all hope that we are finally entering the homestretch of this virus—the vaccines are rolling out and before long, we will have herd immunity. When you hear about the vaccines, you begin to breathe easy and think we are turning the corner. We begin to feel relief. Yet, when we least expected it, the second and third wave struck. And struck hard.
People around the world were particularly knocked back by this wave because we were caught unawares. Having survived the summer and fall, few expected the last few months to be so difficult. COVID fatigue had set in and people wanted to believe that the end was near. We were particularly vulnerable when this wave hit and can easily be excused to losing hope.
As I thought about this, I asked myself what message we can take from this terrible spike. It dawned on me that the message is in the Torah portion that we read this week. It is also fascinating that the events described in this Torah portion occurred at this very time of year.
G-d is in Control
In the middle of the summer before the Exodus, Moses approached Pharaoh and relayed G-d’s message, “let my people go so they could serve me.” Pharaoh flat out refused, and Moses complained to G-d. To which G-d replied, now you will see that G-d is in control.
Thus, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, a series of ten plagues began. Each plague lasted seven days after which Moses gave Pharaoh a three-week warning before the next plague.
In Av, the waters of Egypt turned to blood. On the first of Elul, Egypt was struck by frogs. On the first of Tishrei, the day that would later become Rosh Hashanah, the plague of lice began. On the first of Cheshvan, wild beasts arrived. On the first of Kislev, pestilence struck. On the first of Tevet, boils broke out. And in the dead of winter, on the first of Shevat, hail began to fall.
This week we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the first of the month of Shevat. As we read this Torah portion on Shabbat, we will be in the middle of the week during which the hail fell. The hail struck the Egyptians particularly hard. They had already been slammed by six powerful plagues and were growing fatigued when they were struck by one of the harshest plagues.
The hail was comprised of huge blocks of ice (not the little pellets that we call hail) and within these frigid blocks raged searing flames of fire. When these blocks crashed to the ground, they released explosive sounds akin to the landing of bombs. This threw them off completely.
Outbreaks of frogs, lice, and boils are unusual, but not unnatural. Pestilence strikes every so often and boils are not unheard of. Water turning to blood is alarming but that was the first plague and they managed to survive.
Now, after everything that had occurred, they were struck by this most unnatural occurrence. Fire is either extinguished by water or water is boiled by fire. For them to coexist is utterly unnatural and G-d made peace between them to strike Egypt. It stymied the Egyptians, who found no way to explain it. Add to that the unceasing explosions all day and night and Pharaoh had his fill.
Thirty-three-hundred-and-thirty-three years ago, at this time of year, Pharaoh, who had once refused to even acknowledge G-d’s existence, summoned Moses and declared, “G-d is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” Having been battered by the plagues, he finally conceded, G-d is right, and I am wrong. G-d is in control.
The COVID Spike
Something else occurred on the first of Shevat forty years later. Moses, five weeks before his passing, began to review and explain the Torah that he had taught over the past forty years. This tells us that this is a propitious time of year to reflect on the Torah’s perspective of life’s events.
It was at this time of year that Pharaoh declared that G-d is righteous, that G-d is in control. And it is at around this time of year that we too are coming to terms with something similar. From the day COVID struck, scientists have been hard at work mapping it and creating a vaccine. Studies were performed throughout the world to understand how this virus works, how it communicates, and what we can do it mitigate its spread.
We believed haughtily (and I confess to thinking the same) that with our advanced understanding of science and medicine, we would master this plague before long. We would find a vaccine, we would learn the proper hygienic and distancing techniques, and we would get off easy. Indeed, we have developed guidelines, we have built a vaccine, we thought we are close to the end, and were, nevertheless, struck by a massive wave that spread across the world.
We are zeroing in on two million deaths and there is no telling when it will end. We continue to expect the vaccine to end it, but meanwhile the contagion is spiking even in Israel, who leads the world in vaccine distribution.
This came at a time when we least expected it and when we least wanted it because we are so close to the end. Yet, the fact is that most road accidents occur within a mile from home. When we draw near to home, we grow complacent and stop being careful. We need to increase our vigilance and be extra alert as we enter the homestretch.
But we must also ask ourselves what we can take from this and I believe the answer is in our Torah portion. In the end, we are not in control. G-d is in control. We knew it at the beginning of COVID, we never really forgot it, but this latest spike has really brought it home. It caught us by surprise. It made us feel vulnerable. And there is a silver lining in this cloud. It helped us realize, truly intuit and really sense, that our efforts are only successful if G-d wills it. G-d is in control.
We must utilize every tool that G-d made available to us, but in the end, we must acknowledge that we are in His hands. G-d is in control. Ask yourself if you have been praying enough for humanity’s welfare. Ask yourself if you have increased your quota of good and kind deeds. The Talmud teaches that when we are compassionate toward others, G-d is compassionate toward us.
If we are in His hands, if G-d is in control, if we believe it truly and absolutely, then we must take more than medical steps. We must also take spiritual steps. Hand in hand with our protective measures and vaccinations, we must grow closer to G-d.
May G-d smile down on us and remove this plague swiftly and completely. After all, G-d is in Control.