Italy — What Do You Have To Lose

There is a great tendency during a crisis situation, to “play G-d” and decide that we know exactly the reason why the Al-mighty is acting as He does. This does seem like foolishness as we are unable to truly fathom G-d’s ways. I hope that I am not falling into that same trap with what follows. I thought that a suggestion based on a prophetic story, might possibly reap benefits. This is why I titled this article, “What do you have to lose.”

The story in question is found in the Book of Samuel I, chapters four and five. We are told that Israel lost a bitter battle with the Philistines at Aphek. The elders of Israel were shaken by this defeat, and came up with a plan. They would take the Holy Ark from Shilo, and bring it to the battlefield. When the ark was brought to the camp of Israel, it was accompanied with blasts of the Shofar, with the intention of demoralizing the Philistines.

The plan backfired as the fear of the power of Israel, motivated the Philistines to fight even harder. They defeated the Israeli army, while killing 30,000 Jews, and confiscating the Holy Ark. It was a dark day in Jewish history. The High Priest, Eli, and his two sons, Chofni and Pinchas, all perished on that dreadful day. Eli’s daughter in-law, the wife of Pinchas, also died in childbirth that day. Her dying words were, “Glory has been exiled from Israel, for the Ark of G-d has been captured.”

The Philistines held the ark for a total of seven months. During this time, the ark wreaked havoc among them. The ark caused their false god, Dagon, to be humiliated; they found it fallen on its face, day after day. But worse, the ark caused a serious plague among the Philistines. The ark moved from place to place during those seven months. “For there was a panic of death in the whole city; the Hand of G-d was very heavy there. The people who did not die were stricken with hemorrhoids, and the cry of the city ascended to heaven.” (Samuel I 5:10).

The very next verse says that they summoned their governors, and came up with the following solution: “Send away the Ark of the G-d of Israel. Let it return to its place and not kill me and my people, for there was a panic of death in the whole city; the Hand of G-d was very heavy there.” The ark was returned to Israel and the plague among the Philistines had ended.

There is another brief story of “what do you have to lose,” concerning the Prophet Elisha and Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the army of Aram, and was stricken with a harsh case of leprosy. He was told that Elisha had the powers to cure him. Elisha refused to meet with the general, and simply told him that if he dipped in the Jordan River, he would be healed. Naaman was deeply insulted about this rejection and was very angry. His advisors told him, “what do you have to lose.” If Elisha is right, you will be healthy. He listened and we are told that his skin became soft and smooth like that of a baby.

This leads us to Italy of today. It breaks our heart to see the suffering from the Corona virus throughout the world. Italy has been hit among the hardest with numerous casualties. Is it so far fetched to make a “what do you have to lose” suggestion to Italy, Rome, and the Vatican? If the Philistines suffered so much for holding on to our Holy Ark for seven months, what could be said of Rome for holding on to our Temple artifacts for 1,950 years?

Many years ago, I was told a story by one of the heads of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. A group of Catholic clergy had just come from the Vatican and were shown the numerous Temple artifacts confiscated by the Romans after destroying the Second Temple in 7o C.E. They complimented the Temple Institute’s people by telling them that their remaking of Temple vessels were exactly like the ones they saw in Rome.

This looks to me like a win-win situation for the Italians. As crazy as this sounds, if they return all Temple vessels and it brings an end to Corona in Italy, that would be great. And if, G-d forbid, it doesn’t help, they will have brought a great deal of joy to the people of Israel, who could also use a shot in the arm, during these difficult times. Therefore, I say to Italy, “What do you have to lose!”

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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