The aphorism states that every cloud must have a silver lining and while the dark cloud of the coronavirus hangs heavy over the Holy Land, one unexpected benefit might be that the strict quarantine will bring about the condition the Jewish sages say precedes the Messiah: universal observance of the holy Sabbath.
In response to the pandemic coronavirus, Israel’s Health Ministry issued a new set of directives, the strictest the country has seen to date. A 14-day absolute curfew began Monday in which essential industries will remain open (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc), but there will be no buses, no trains, and no leaving the home for non-essential reasons. There will also be army and police patrolling to enforce that last item with a “heavy hand” according to reports.
All outdoor leisure activity, with very few exceptions, is also prohibited according to the new regulations. The directives specifically included public parks, beaches as well as malls as being considered no-go zones.
As a result of the health ministry’s initiatives, for the first time in modern Israel’s 71-year history and perhaps for the first time since Biblical rule reigned in the land, all shopping malls, theaters, stores, restaurants, and beaches will be closed on a Saturday.
In a powerful case of synchronicity, this sabbath, Jews around the world will be reading the parsha (weekly section of the Torah) in Exodus chapters 35-40 which opens with Moses commanding the Jews to keep the sabbath.
Driving and doing business are forbidden on Shabbat, as is traveling outside of a specified area. With empty thoroughfares and shops, all of Israel will closely resemble the Biblical description of Shabbat.
Quarantines similar to that being applied in Israel are also being enforced in several countries, creating a condition in which a global sabbath may be observed this week, precisely when Jews are reminded of the Biblical commandment.
Few people realize that observance of the sabbath in its proper day is one of the major keys to bringing in the Messianic era. The Talmud (Shabbat 118b) states, “Were Israel to keep two Sabbaths as commanded, they would be immediately redeemed.”
It is important to note that Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, head of the Sanhedrin’s Noahide Court and of the Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshiva, explained that the two sabbaths described in the Talmud could be interpreted as a Jewish Shabbat in tandem with a non-Jewish Shabbat. The rabbi put out a call for the nations to keep the Sabbath and for the Jews to help them in this mission.
Rabbi Schwartz explained that there are two different versions of the Sabbath commandment; one for Jews and one for the nations. The Jews are required to both ‘remember’ and ‘observe’, performing the positive commandments as well as refraining from the 39 forbidden forms of labor. The positive mitzvah of remembering the Sabbath is encompassed in reciting kiddush (sanctifying) the Sabbath, usually performed over a glass of wine. He also recommended that non-Jews light two candles to bring in the Sabbath typically performed by women.
This unexpected positive side-effect of the pandemic was praised by Moshe Feiglin, the leader of the Zehut party. He began his rather poetic Facebook post on the subject with a quote from the blessings said after the Shabbat meal.
“The compassionate One! May He cause us to inherit the day which will be completely a Sabbath and rest day for eternal life”
“I could never imagine this addition to this Saturday’s food blessing,” Feiglin wrote, noting that the word ‘Shabbat’ actually means ‘to cease’ or ‘to stop.’.
“Now, the whole world is stopping. Stopping work, stopping from running around, stopping from flying. Thanks to the virus, the atmosphere is being renewed and the air we are breathing now is cleaner than ever (except perhaps on Yom Kippur).”
“Air pollution kills more even than road accidents. So maybe this corona also comes with a blessing…”
“No entertainment, no shopping, no going to the beach or parks or malls. We will all be just like the ultra-religious on Shabbat. Families will be sitting together in their homes, rebuilding what was lost in the craziness of modern life.”
“What else is He planning for us, the One that dwells in the heavens?”
“First, He stopped the politics. Then, He stopped transportation. Next, He closed the school and, the economy.”
“What is the next plan from the Great Director, our Merciful Father? What is the next act in the play? In which we are all spectators as well as participants?”