(told by Rabbi David Wolpe, JCPA interview “Jewish Values During a Pandemic, 3/17/20)
If you go to the Israel Museum, you can see there the oldest fragments of torah that exist in the world. They are two rolled-up silver amulets that were found in the Valley of Hinom, outside the walls of Jerusalem. If you know Jewish tradition, you know that that valley, Gehenna, is the Jewish word for Hell, because that was where the Cananites sacrificed children, and the Jews thought that was hell.
So these amulets found in Gei-Hinom [were] from right around the destruction of the first temple, from 586 BCE. They were found about 20-25 years ago, and when they unrolled them, they found inside the Birkat Kohanim [priestly blessing]: Y’varecha Hashem V’yshimercha….
May God bless you and keep you,
May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you,
May God be with you and grant you peace.
In other words, the oldest piece of torah we have is a blessing rescued from hell. And that’s what we do, that’s what our tradition teaches us, when something terrible happens, we look to maximize the blessing. To everyone who is watching and to everyone beyond, I wish you safety and good health and try to find the blessing in the midst of this desperate and difficult time.