Illustration: Health Workers Wearing Face Masks by cottonbro via Pexels [Pexel license]
I've been hammering galut Jews the last few weeks over their obstinate refusal to get the message that they should come home to Israel. But I'd like to take a break from that to share some silver linings to our situation that you might not have considered.
Our routines and plans have been severely disrupted by the worldwide plague of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and everyone is suffering in some way because of it. At the same time, we have the opportunity to come to powerful realizations both personally and as a community.
When all this is finally over and life returns to a new normal, whatever that may be, we can apply these lessons to create a better society. We never want to suffer, and we pray for it to end, but in the aftermath of the suffering we might be able to look back and be grateful for having experienced it — if we don't sleepwalk through the experience.
Here are seven insights that I hope will carry over into the aftermath of this episode.
1. “It is not good for Man to be alone”
I have devoted much of my life to bringing sanity and true Torah values back to the shidduch (matchmaking) world. The current situation has compelled me to place the shidduch world on the back burner, but we should not miss a vital lesson that we can learn from it.
“It is not good for man to be alone” is the first comment G-d makes about the human race. Many singles today have lost sight of the most basic reason for getting married: to have a partner in life; someone whose primary job description is to be deeply invested in your life and your well-being. As people all over the world are in quarantines or various states of lock down, with everything so uncertain from one day to the next, it will hopefully hit home to these singles how nice it would be to have a partner. They might know this in an abstract sense, but they don't necessarily feel it, they don't necessarily yearn for it.
Maybe when this is all over they will prioritize getting married over more mundane considerations. It is all too common for singles to search with complacency, as they are already "married" to their educational pursuits, their careers, their hobbies, their travels, their social relationships, and other such things. They pass up excellent opportunities and dismiss people based on trivial, narcissistic reasons because marriage is not really on their front burner. Many such people are alone right now, not because of misfortune in their search — such people deserve only compassion and support — but because of choices they made.
Marriage isn't only for times of crisis such as now, but it sure helps to have a devoted partner in those times. “It is not good for Man to be alone.”
2. Sometimes it IS good for Man to be alone
The social media age has made it easy for us to never be completely alone even when we are not in the company of other people. That's great for lonely people but it comes with a serious price. It's become harder than ever for people to be alone with themselves and their thoughts.
The ability to sit down quietly and contemplate things has been lost from many people. Every quiet moment must be filled with a distraction, an escape, some form of entertainment. We never allow ourselves to be alone. We never dare to wonder about who we are exactly, what we are doing here, and what it's all about.
Those can be very threatening thoughts. They may result in major insights that cut to the core of our lives. But without these thoughts and potentially making changes, what's the point? Social media and technology are still here to fill the quiet moments, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to be alone. Let us make the most of it.
3. There is no such thing as financial security
This comes up a lot in the shidduch world, particularly with women. They have no shame in telling people that they are looking for someone with financial security. This was always an immediate turn off to me, for two reasons.
First of all, what would they do if they married a wealthy individual who then suddenly lost his job or suffered a financial downturn? Would they leave him? Would they only add to his misery? Or would they support him through his tough times? Clearly they would be inclined to the former, as they wouldn't even consider someone who wasn't already "successful."
Second of all, they were clueless about one of the basic truths of the world, which the Torah constantly emphasizes. There is no such thing as financial security. Not for anyone. We have seen trillions of dollars wiped off portfolios in a matter of weeks. We have seen some of the world's largest companies face serious problems and even potential bankruptcy. Countless people have lost their jobs or otherwise find themselves in financial peril. Just like that.
This is an important thing to keep in mind not just in dating, but in life. Don't fall into the trap of ever thinking you have it all figured out and don't need G-d to watch over you every single moment. There is no such thing.
4. A solution for the tuition crisis
This is mainly for America’s Jews, where the cost of Jewish education is beyond the means of all but the most affluent. For the foreseeable future, there will be no formal education in yeshivot and day schools. This is a perfect opportunity for you to take greater charge of your children's education, experiment with homeschooling, and appreciate the fact that education consists of one person teaching another knowledge and skills.
Much of the expense of formal Jewish education goes to pay for unnecessary frills: luxurious campuses, sports leagues, extra-curricular activities, expensive school trips, and other highly expendable programs. All of these can enrich one's educational experience, of course, but our community has lost the ability to distinguish between luxuries and necessities.
The main thing now is for children to continue to learn knowledge and skills. They will be just fine without all the frills, maybe even better off. When things settle down, remember that. Investing more in teachers and the core of education, while eliminating the luxuries from the "standard package", will go a long way toward improving Jewish education and making it more affordable.
5. Survival skills should be part of basic education
Informal survey: Who do you want to be with in times of crisis, a liberal arts major — with a specialty in gender studies, classical literature, social justice, or the like — or someone who can build things, fix things, keep things together, and survive when the conveniences of the modern world are not available?
Shouldn't everyone be taught these skills?
6. A solution for the wedding expense crisis
Life goes on even when the routine is interrupted. People are still getting married, even though travel and gathering in groups have been severely restricted. From what I can tell, the new couples and their families are continuing to celebrate with great joy, and they are finding ad hoc, bare-bones ceremonies extremely meaningful.
Extravagant weddings exist mainly because of social pressures and expectations. Right now, these social pressures and expectations have been eliminated, so there are no extravagant weddings. And you know what? It doesn't matter.
When this situation passes, keep that in mind. Let's not go back to the way it was.
7. Some people are incapable of being objective
I'm concluding this serious piece on somewhat of a lighter note, though this is still a serious point. This can be called the “corona idiot test.”
Some people care so deeply about a particular issue or are so deeply invested in an ideology that they see literally everything through that prism. It's important to be aware of this so that you don't get distracted by side issues or otherwise miss out on a healthy intellectual approach to the situation.
Here are just a few examples. Antisemites claim that the corona virus was created by the Jews so they can take over the world or profit from "magically" finding a vaccine. People who hate Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu will criticize whatever action they take or don't take as being destructive. People who believe the government is trying to control them will believe that the virus is an excuse for them to take away their rights.
I'm not arguing that any of these things are true or false (except the one about the Jews taking over the world being what I would call wishful thinking). I'm simply observing that many people are incapable of rationally, objectively assessing anything that happens, because they have a manic obsession with a cause or idea. These are not the best sort of people to have around in a time of crisis, and they shouldn't influence your own ability to react to it in a healthy way. Tune them out.
And when this is behind us, you might want to take some of our new practices into “life after corona.”
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall” and "“Tovim Ha-Shenayim: The role and nature of Man and Woman.” He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, “Single Jewish Male,” available on YouTube.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; many of his writings are available here. Click here to read more of this writer's work in The Jerusalem Herald.