The COVID-19 virus that began as a localized outbreak in central China has quickly become a global pandemic, bringing the world to a standstill and redefining “normal” life.

Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, taught that every occurrence in the universe — even a negative one — can and should provide us with productive lessons.

As we continue to follow health guidelines and pray for the recovery of those infected, here are some encouraging things we’ve learned from this global crisis:

1. Our Shared Humanity

The virus is blind to cultural and ideological differences, infecting people of all races, religions, and ages. In many ways, the world has become more united, sharing the same vulnerability. Our sages say that this actually happens once a year on Rosh Hashanah, when “all the people of the world” pass before G‑d in judgment.1 It reminds us that despite our differences, we are one humanity under G‑d.

2. The Power of Caring

Scientists are still examining the nature of this new disease, but it is clear that it spreads through close contact. We must not forget that love also spreads person-to-person (even at a six foot distance). King Solomon spoke of the impact we can have on one another: “As in water, face answers to face, so is the heart of a man to a man.”2

3. Finding Comfort in Prayer

Efforts to halt the spread of the disease have cast us into uncharted waters. Newly imposed restrictions, economic devastation, and the fear of being infected have left us anxious and uncertain. But, as Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel put it, “Uncertainty is the refuge of hope.” In prayer, we have the ability to connect to the Supreme Being in Whom we find comfort and solace, strengthening our hope and resolve. Prayer affirms that the Creator is present, all-seeing and cares for each of us.

4. Valuing Freedom

Being restricted and isolated presents a unique set of challenges, but it also reminds us of the gift of freedom. In fact, on the festival of Passover we are instructed that, “In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt.”3 Freedom as a state of mind is to be pursued regularly, wherever we find ourselves.

5. Not Being Wasteful

As fear has taken its toll, many people have flocked to stores and emptied shelves into their shopping carts. That fear is also a wonderful reminder to appreciate the food we have and constrain waste so that we — and those who live in the world around us — have resources for another day. Jewish law teaches the biblical instruction, “You shall not destroy.”4 This proscription applies to food as well; if there's something left over, we try to repurpose it.

6. Prioritizing Essentials

Amazon announced that it will prioritize delivering “essential” household items because of high demand. Regardless of how you define essential, the outbreak has led us to reevaluate our priorities. Way before bestselling author Stephen Covey made the idea famous, Moses told livestock owners, “Make the main thing the main thing and what is secondary, secondary.”5

7. Focusing Inward

With many of us stuck at home (alone or with loved ones), we have temporarily lost the identities we assume in the outside world. We don't have the commute or the office to define the pattern of our day. The pandemic has given us space and time to connect with who we are. On the Jewish day of rest, Shabbat, we unplug and focus on ourselves and those we care about. During this pandemic, we do more of that during the week as well.

8. The Sanctity of Life

Throughout history, our synagogue doors have been kept open against forces of antisemitism and through many challenges. Now, those doors are closed to save lives. The Torah instructs, “You shall keep My statutes and My ordinances, which a person shall do and live by them.”6 Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya interprets this mandate to mean, “In all circumstances, one must take care not to die as a result of fulfilling the mitzvot.” The sanctity of life is paramount.7

9. The Preciousness of Every Moment

The heartbreaking (growing) death toll of the virus reminds us of our mortality. As King David said, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Just as the shadow quickly fades, so do our lives. We are reminded to cherish our moments and to infuse them with meaning and purpose.8