"The measure of good," say our sages, "is greater than the measure of affliction." Five hundred times greater, to be exact.1 In other words, whenever we encounter a negative phenomenon, there is a corresponding positive phenomenon that mirrors it, and in which the negative thing's traits are magnified many times over.

A "measure of affliction" currently on everyone's mind is the frightening SARS virus. We are terrified by its newness, by the alarming ease by which it passes from one person to another, by the fact that we have yet to develop a cure or a vaccine to combat it. What would be the characteristics of a corresponding "measure of good"?

Here are a few that come to mind:

a) It does not require intimate contact, prolonged involvement or years of in-depth study for one who possesses it to pass it on to another. A fleeting encounter, the air of a shared space, suffices for one person to have a profound effect upon a fellow human being.

b) As it passes from one person to another it undergoes tiny — but very significant — mutations, adjusting itself to the particular characteristics of its new possessor, thereby compounding its effect and making it more resistant to efforts to uproot it.

c) Its impact is far-reaching and beyond all proportion to its quantity. It is enough that a single person shows the merest symptom for the entire region to become aware of and preoccupied with it.

d) It focuses a tremendous amount of attention and resources on the minutest bits of matter, the tiniest of life-forms — and the slightest nuances thereof — recognizing that not size or mass is the measure of a thing, but what it does.

e) It provokes widespread, even global, cooperation on the part of a great variety of people from all walks of life to answer the questions it poses and meet the challenges it raises.

May the Almighty provide the brave armies of doctors and researchers with the wisdom to overcome this new threat to our health and peace of mind, so the only thing remaining from these tragic and terrifying weeks is the insight we've gained into the power of good.