Does Coronavirus mean we’re in the end of days? People I know say this is the end and either Moshiach or the war of Gog and Magog is imminent.
I’m sorry but this question made me shake my head a little because of the things people are telling you. So, first things first, calm down about COVID-19. Yes, it’s serious, and yes, we should follow Center for Disease Control recommendations, but this isn’t the thing that’s going to take down the human race. It’s not even going to decimate the population.
We’ve gotten a little spoiled because our modern hygiene has eradicated so much disease. We have soap, vaccines, antibiotics, hand sanitizer, disposable cups, and a thousand other things that keep us healthy in ways that previous generations never could have imagined. Back in the day, if a cut got infected, you could die. We pour peroxide on it and forget about it. People died from diarrhea. We drink Gatorade to replenish our electrolytes and go back to work.
We’ve had health crises before of course. I don’t know how old you are so I don’t know what you remember first-hand but I remember the Ebola scare (2014), SARS (2002), the AIDS crisis (1985) and Legionnaires’ Disease (1976) – all of them serious, and yes, there were fatalities, but none of them wiped out mankind, leaving behind a civilization of damned dirty apes. (Depending on your age, you may not even know what SARS or Legionnaires’ Disease is. There’s a good chance that twenty years from now, teens will be going, “What was coronavirus?”)
Coronavirus isn’t even that deadly as such things go. It’s pretty much only threatening to the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. As of this writing, there have been 145,631 confirmed cases worldwide. Yes, 5,407 people have died – mostly among the earliest cases in China. Less widely reported is that 70,920 people who contracted coronavirus have already recovered. The truth is that a person is more likely to die in a fire than he or she is from COVID-19. If anything, the lesson here is that we should be more zealous in getting flu shots and checking our smoke detectors.
Nevertheless, we should follow recommendations about handwashing, avoiding large gatherings, etc. because we want this virus to die out and the best way to do that is to prevent its spread. This will protect the people who are actually at risk but it’s not because COVID-19 is a doomsday scenario. So follow the CDC recommendations but keep calm.
Now, let’s assume the worst-case scenario, that a plague was going to wipe out a significant portion of humanity. Would that be a sign of the end of days? Short answer: nope.
Remember what I said about us being fortunate to live in an era of vaccinations and antibiotics? Well, most of mankind wasn’t so fortunate, and plagues were just another part of life. Biblically, we see plagues in Numbers chapter 17 (death toll 14,700) and in II Samuel 24 (death toll 70,000). These plagues were limited to the Jewish nation and represented significant portions of the population. Historically, the Black Plague in 1340 killed as many as 200 million – about a quarter of the world population! Any of these represents a much higher mortality rate than the coronavirus and yet none of them triggered the end times.
So what would be signs that the arrival of Moshiach is imminent? For that, we turn to the Talmudic tractate of Sotah (49b), where it presents the following scenarios:
“In the time preceding the arrival of Moshiach, people will be more impertinent and inflation will run rampant. Even though produce will be abundant, wine will be expensive. The government will turn to heresy but no one will be in a position to give rebuke about it. The meeting places (of the Sages) will become places of promiscuity, Galilee will be destroyed and the Golan will be desolate. The people from the border towns will travel from city to city seeking charity but no one will have pity on them. The wisdom of Torah scholars will scoffed at and God-fearing people will be looked down upon. Truth will be ignored. Young people will have no respect for their elders, who will have to stand up for the young. Sons will disgrace their fathers, daughters will contend with their mothers, and daughters-in-law with their mothers-in-law. A person’s enemies will be the members of his own family. The generation will act like a dog (with so-called ‘leaders’ yielding to popular opinion) and sons will have no shame in front of their fathers.”
Now, I’m not saying that Moshiach’s arrival isn’t imminent – after all, we have a lot of those things in our generation! – I’m just saying that a plague isn’t one of the signs we’ve been given.
Now, since you mentioned it, the war of “Gog and Magog” is one possible pre-Messianic scenario. (There’s more than one way that Moshiach can come – the “easy way” and the “hard way.” The war of Gog and Magog is the hard way.) This war is discussed by name in Ezekiel chapters 38-39, not by name in Isaiah chapter 18, and is obliquely referenced in Zechariah chapter 14. Counter to popular misconception, it is not a war between nations called Gog and Magog; it’s a war provoked by a leader called Gog, who rules a nation referred to as Magog. (These are code words and not their actual names.) Gog and his allies will attack the Jewish exiles returning to Israel but God will ultimately direct His wrath upon the invaders. Gog will regroup his forces for a second attack, after which they will be destroyed. It’s an unpleasant scenario that we wish to avoid but, again, a plague isn’t part of it.
I’m not saying that COVID-19 isn’t important; it is. And I’m not saying definitively that Moshiach’s arrival isn’t imminent; for all I know, it might be. I’m just saying that the former isn’t a sign of the latter. As far as declaring that the “end times” are upon us, let us remember that the Sages of the Talmud cursed those who would try to calculate the Moshiach’s arrival (Sanhedrin 97b). The reason is that, should one’s calculations prove faulty (which, historically, all such calculations to date have), people may not conclude that you made a mistake. Rather, they might conclude that your math was right and there must be no Moshiach. Accordingly, our appropriate course of action is not to try to figure out God’s calendar, it’s to have faith and to anticipate Moshiach’s arrival in the proper time. To that end, the gemara cites Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore Hashem will wait so that He might be gracious to you…happy are all who wait for Him.”
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Follow Ask Rabbi Jack on YouTube