Disclaimer: When I was asked to write about my experience with COVID-19, I balked as there are people who’ve been through significantly worse symptoms, and sadly, others are critically ill, and still more have passed away, so I wondered what right do I have and of what value is my writing?
Having said the above, if this will calm even one person and inspire even one more, then it will have been worth the effort.
I must first thank our first responders, nurses and doctors on the front lines, putting themselves in harm’s way, to help others. They are the unsung heroes of this virus story.
I am writing this a little more than a week before Passover, and my symptoms have mostly moved on, but there is no doubt that I have now joined the millions of Americans, diagnosed or otherwise, as having been infected with the virus.
With an impending bris on the agenda, I felt obligated to get a test if possible. My test confirming what I already suspected came back more than a week before Pesach: I was, indeed, positive. My story is not unique only insofar I actually got a test before they were widely available.
I am grateful to Hashem that my symptoms were fairly mild. Many, including myself have relatives and others who are fighting for their lives, and they are the real story and should have speedy recoveries and the others should be comforted for their losses. They include my cousin, a Chabad rabbi in Hanover, Germany, Benyomin ben Faigel and my Sister’s father-in-law Chaim Levi ben Chana Priva. They are in need of real blessings for speedy and complete recoveries.
In all likelihood I contracted this from two of my children. Both had come back from their schools and had direct exposure in their school/communities and were sent home. One child noted how he did not have a sense of smell, a pretty clear early indicator.
We began practicing social distancing, well before local schools closed and it became a state mandate. We treated ourselves as if we were exposed.
My first symptoms were a very low grade fever and super achy muscles that woke me up at night, for a couple days. I attributed it to working out too hard on one of those T-20 home workout videos and didn’t think much of it. By Friday night, my body felt like 1,000 pounds and I couldn’t get out of bed. By Monday, I felt fine. I did have a slight dry cough that persisted for some time. I lost my sense of smell a few days later (but is now mostly back).
I wouldn’t be a rabbi if I didn’t grab the bully pulpit and share a lesson.
There is nothing like being told that you have a virus that is killing thousands and infecting millions to sober you up about life and what is important and what matters. Once I had my diagnosis, my jobs didn’t magically stop, and my parenting obligations didn’t suddenly disappear.
The hypochondriac in you starts to think that every ache and pain is a sign of your imminent demise, but the realist in you understands that you just need to be self-aware and present and mindful about how you are doing, and that one should take nothing for granted. This self-awareness can be a blessing, as I will explain shortly.
Many comparisons have been made about COVID-19, the quarantine and other events in history. The one I’ve seen most is that the Jews on the eve of the redemption from Egypt were required to quarantine in place at home so that the plague passes over their home.
Another one that keeps popping in my mind is the quarantine of the Mitzorah (this week’s Torah portion), the spiritual leper, one who slandered another and was afflicted with a skin condition and sent from the main encampment of the Jews. He was required to sit in solitude, away from family and friends so that he could contemplate. His actions caused division and now he was the one divided away from the people.
The purpose, however, was not to punish the gossiper in a punitive way, rather to force him to be without any distraction and free to focus entirely on who he is, what made him step out of line, and what new practices he could introduce into his life going forward.
This forced quarantine is doing the same for us. It is forcing us to see the parts of our relationships, our parenting, our children that we are proud of, as well as the parts that could use some polishing. Most importantly, it is forcing us to confront the parts of ourselves that we have been able to avoid, but no longer. That element of being in quarantine is actually quite valuable and useful in our self-development.
If state regulations require us to be physically apart, then we can use it as an opportunity to at least be totally and completely aware of our own selves.
A positive test might tell us to really spend time introspecting. Add to that a 72 hour off-line first days of Pesach, and a 48 hour off-line for the second days of Pesach and it feels like Hashem really wanted me to spend time looking inward.
I hope now that it appears that I am past this, that I’ve heard the message, learned the lessons and am free and immunized against this virus – including the physical and spiritual elements within it.
May we all be blessed with health and happiness and may all those that need a speedy recovery be blessed by heaven with a full recovery and may we merit the coming of the Moshiach when we will no longer experience illness or war of any type.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman leads Chabad of Peabody.