Then, as now, we were warned a catastrophe was coming

This year, like millions of others, my wife and I sat alone at our Seder table thinking about the horrific pandemic that has suddenly overtaken and shaken our world to its very core. Here we were celebrating our favorite holiday separated from our children, grandchildren and extended families.

Believe me, this Passover none of us had to be told “why is this night different from all other nights of the year “Particularly the first part of the Seder which traditionally reviews the turbulent history of our ancestors, we more than ever before understood the pain and suffering unleashed by the ten plagues.

We thought of friends and relatives here in LA and around the country stricken by the killer virus. We thought of the brave doctors and nurses who risked their own lives and had to decide who should be treated and who should be put on a ventilator.

Then as we do every year, we sang the traditional tune for V’he Sheyomda,‘Yes in Every Generation ‘they rose up to slay us.’ Which, of course, brings us to forthcoming events that we are commentating: Yom Hashoah, the greatest hate pandemic in recorded human history where 6 million Jews including 1.5 million children were murdered by merciless killers. Amongst them an unbelievable eye witness account of three children from Dr. Aaron Peretz, a Jewish community leader in Poland. German soldiers, he writes, began separating children from their mothers and tossing them into their automobiles… I saw mothers screaming…one mother whose three children had been taken away shouted at the Germans “give me back my children…” “You may have one,” the Nazi replied. She then approached the automobile and all three of her children stretched out their hands. They all desperately wanted to go with her. But the Nazis wouldn’t allow it so the mother broke down hysterically crying before she was forced to leave her children in the car!

Then, soon after Yom Hashoah, on May 8th, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in which 80 million human beings lost their lives. All of the above could have been avoided had we paid more attention to clear signs and warnings issued by brave men and woman.

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1934, Winston Churchill prophetically warned “wars come very suddenly … and I am bound to say that I cannot see in the present administration of Nazi Germany any assurance that they would be more nice minded …no sir we may within the measurable period of time in the lifetime of those who are here if we are not in a proper state of security … that on some occasion with a visit from an ambassador, and we may have to give an answer in a very few hours, And if that answer is not satisfactory ,within the few hours the crash of bombs exploding in London. To which he added in 1936… “let us free the world from the approach of a catastrophe carrying with it calamity and tribulation beyond the tongue of man to tell.”

So, it was on July 29, 1942, when Eduard Schulte, a wealthy German industrialist, became privy to Hitler’s most guarded secret. His plan to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews as part of a ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish Question. Schulte who had children and was married sacrificed everything to secretly leave Germany and go to Switzerland in the midst of the war and tell his secret to the American Embassy. The secret was then forwarded to the State Department with an accompanying letter written by the US Embassy official in Switzerland indicating that the enclosed information was probably not reliable. As a result, the Roosevelt Administration did nothing and millions of Jews who could’ve been saved were ignored and payed the supreme price of losing their lives.

So, it was with the coronavirus when a man named Bill Gates spoke these words in 2015, “Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like a nuclear weapon instead it looks like a virus. If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles but microbes. Now part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrence. But we’ve invested very little in the system to stop an epidemic. We are not ready for the next epidemic!”

Sadly, mankind is again seeking to reenact the story of the Tower of Babel where man, once again, wants to ascend the heavens before fulfilling his responsibilities here on the earth. The virus only reminds us all how far we have strayed off course.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once quoted a Medrash that we should all emulate the almighty who created many worlds before they were destroyed but was still able to say of his new creation ‘behold it is very good indeed’!

Let us worry less about outer space and weapons of mass destruction and concentrate more on making our planet very good indeed for our children and their descendants.

About the Author
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He founded the Center in Los Angeles in 1977 as a global Jewish human rights NGO to confront anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. Rabbi Hier is also the founder of Moriah Films, the Center’s documentary film division, and has been the recipient of two Academy Awards™. He has twice been named as "The Most Influential Rabbi in America" by Newsweek Magazine.
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