Let’s take a second a see what Jewish values are applicable during this time of a national emergency. The infectiousness of COVID-19 presents a circumstance of Pikuach Nefesh (life-threatening risk) and we need to respond accordingly. Yes, the coronavirus is something that should not be taken lightly and we should consider how to approach it using our tradition as a guide.
- Rachatz [washing]– This week’s Torah portion has Moses being commanded to make a copper basin for the priests to wash their hands. [Exodus 30:17-21] They are told: “wash their hands and feet, lest they die.” Let me remind you that when you come to the Temple or any public setting, to be like a kohen and wash your hands or use some sort of hand sanitizer. It is for your own sake and the sake of others since unwittingly you might be a potential carrier of this disease.
- Self-care: A tale is told of a well-known 17th-century Chasidic rabbi named Zusya, who, when he died, went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, “Why weren’t you more like Moses, a great leader?” Or, “Why were you not wiser, like King Solomon, or braver, like King David?” But when he faced the accounting before God of his life, God simply asked him, “Why were you not more like Zusya?” Our challenge in life, our ultimate task in this world, is to be more like our true selves, our best selves, with our soul radiating through; the individuals that God has called us to be. Part of enabling that shining existence to be visible and present in this world requires that we pay some attention to ourselves. The term “self-care” generally evokes an immediate image of “self-indulgence.” We are told that on airplanes, we are always instructed to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. For me, this is a daily reminder that Judaism teaches us to take care of ourselves so that we can then always be in a place and state of mind to perform acts of G’milut Chasadim. At this time, remember to take care of your self—you feel sick, stay home; you don’t feel strong enough to do something, ask for help. There are people who care about you and will do what they can to support you.
- Savlanut [patience] This virtue surely is going to be tested at this time. Try to understand the anxiety everyone is feeling. Take a second and breathe deeply before you feel the need to confront someone. Be careful not to succumb to the panic that others might be feeling. Ask yourself—do you really need to stock up on toilet paper? Remember—this will pass. It might take some time, but we will survive this. Trust that.
- Teshuvah [forgiveness] This too needs to be practiced. Don’t be afraid to speak firmly but kindly to a loved one whose behavior is becoming a bit unnerved by the stress of this illness. Empathy is needed by also the desire for those to regain rationality as they approach this emergency. Also, help those with compromised immune systems, lung or heart disease, diabetes or history of stroke, and those over the age of 60 who face the highest risks. Even those who are healthy need to be vigorously attentive to the potential risks faced by our fellow-community members. We pray on the High Holy Days, Al tashlichaynu l’et zikna, kichlot kochainu al taazveynu“Please don’t be dismissive of our elders, of those whose physical vigor may ebb.” Please don’t turn your back to them—teshuvah means to turn; please turn to those who might need your help
- Bikur Cholim [visiting the sick] What is being called ‘social distancing,’ is the only effective means of interrupting the spread of coronavirus. Consider it a ‘mitzvah’ to adopt this essential new norm. Refrain from kissing, hugging, and handshakes, opting instead for nods to warmly acknowledge each other optimally at a distance of six-feet. This is a challenge of Connecting without Contact. Limiting our physical contact should not impede increased efforts to draw emotionally and spiritually nearer to one another. Please reach out and check in on each other, especially those living alone. Don’t visit them necessarily, but call or text. If you know someone who is ill or under a self-quarantine, please ask if they have what they need to get strong. Go shopping for them and make sure that you can help them restore their sense of wholeness and health. Please know that pastoral visits to hospitals and nursing homes will be greatly curtailed during this time. Our synagogue staff will be more than willing to call someone who is in need.
- Binah [understanding] Local businesses like restaurants and retail stores will be the hardest hit during this crisis. Think about bringing in from your favorite restaurants or buying a gift card to help sustain them financially. While Amazon and other online retailers can help you endure this crisis without leaving your house, our local business will need your support more so than ever. Think about a curbside pick-up option, if you don’t feel comfortable going inside. If we are not prudent here, our community will look very different after this ordeal is over.
- Kehillah Kedosha [creating a holy community] In tractate Shabbat which is the section of Talmud many people are studying during their daf yomi [page of Talmud a day] practice, we read that there are 3 main physical domains: public space, private homes, and karmelit, which is neither private or public. We know that we should not gather in large public spaces during this time. We know that our private spaces should be cleaned regularly. But what about going to the gym? Go to dinner at a friend’s house or a restaurant? Attend a birthday party or a bar/bat mitzvah celebration? These are very grey areas that you have to ask yourself about the risk and the benefits of these. Please remember that people’s feelings are involved and be understanding to convey your decision wisely and with empathy.
- Make Shabbat special If you are going to be home, create a traditional meal with the proper blessings as well as live-stream CGOH’s services
- Peru u’veru [be fruitful and multiply] I say this tongue and cheek—because we need some levity today-but you know, we need to ensure a Bar/Bat Mitzvah class in 2034! Just saying… but in truth, remember to find the joy and love in your life. Don’t let news cause you to descend into despair and panic. Remember that you are alive and that is cause for rejoicing!!