Howard Goldsmith
Dad, Husband, Rabbi, Outdoorsman, Skier, Cook, Dreamer

Where is God in coronavirus?

Where is God in all of this? Where could God possibly be in the little ball of RNA that makes sick and lays low and kills? Where do we find divinity in stay at home orders and home schooling stress and tense siblings and so much time in the same four walls? Where do we find holiness in fear-filled trips to the grocery store or gloved hands holding Lysol cans to receive our food deliveries – cook those vegetables carefully to denature any unwanted viral stowaways. Where is God’s grace in a stock market that drops and climbs and drops and unemployment rates that go up and up and the uncertainty, so much uncertainty? And Passover, our dear Passover, most celebrated of all Jewish holidays with family and friends and Grandma’s recipes and the old worn haggadahs and the bad jokes and the candlelight filling a big table with love. No regular Passover this year. Where is God?

Did God bring this? Is this a plague akin to those suffered by the Egyptians in Mitzrayim? Like locust or boils or, God forbid, death of the first born? Is God’s angel of illness floating about us – with no lamb’s blood on our doors to promise safety? No. I cannot believe it. I want to believe that everything happens for a reason. That this is all part of God’s plan. But then I hear of young people hospitalized. Of old people dying. Of widows fearful for their young children – that they should not become orphans. Of people dying alone. No. The God I pray to, the God that supports me, the God that I believe in does not bring that misery. It is just the natural way of this world in which we live. Evolution and chemistry and biology produced this plague and human ingenuity and science and will-power will defeat it.

So, then, if God did not create this virus then where is God? I believe that God cries at the bedside of the sick alone in the hospital rooms. I believe that God holds up doctors and nurses and EMS workers filling them with bravery and strength as they enter the trenches. I believe that God is in the small moments of intimacy and connection that spin out as by-products of this crisis – old friends reconnecting beyond Facebook, on Zoom and on the phone, in the moments when I see an embrace on one of the little Zoom squares on the screen of temple activity.

And, I believe that it will be God that makes it possible for us to look back at this and to create meaning. God didn’t do this to us to a teach a lesson. This happened. But, thanks to God, we will be able to create meaning out of COVID-19 once it passes, meaning from the boredom and the science. Meaning from the divisive politics and from cooperation. Meaning from the losses and meaning from the isolation. We will live through this and, with the help of God, we will see new value in quiet time, in reading time, in family time. We will think about the conditions that allow viruses to pass from one to another and we will be cleaner and more respectful. We will realize the great things that we can achieve from our homes and we will shorten our commutes and travel a bit less and get more time with family and lessen our footprint on this one and only planet that we have.

This is not a Darwinian culling of the population wrought by an angry God. This is a sad and scary natural phenomenon. And, knowing that God is by our side, we will find the strength to persevere through it, the comfort to face the tragedies, and then the wisdom to create meaning and change to our world as we cross from this narrow place to what comes next.

At our seders next week, we will speak and sing of Elijah, the prophet who tradition teaches will herald the coming of the messianic age – an age of peace and prosperity, goodness and health, unity and safety. During Passover, we will open our doors and see that Elijah, once again, is not there. I pray that this epidemic will wake us up, will call us to stop waiting for Elijah and begin the work ourselves. I pray that instead of waiting that, when this epidemic ends, we leave our houses recommitted to bringing that better world into existence ourselves. For then, we surely will have made meaning and found God’s role in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Howard Goldsmith is the spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester, a Reform synagogue in Rye, New York. He is an executive member of the Westchester Board of Rabbis and a chaplain for the Westchester County Police Department.
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