A Spiritual Message for the Pandemic
These days we constantly hear a phrase that did not exist just a few weeks ago – “social distancing.” While I understand why it is necessary for health reasons, I believe this concept is the opposite of Judaism’s fundamental values.
Jews are not meant to be apart; we are meant to be together.
Every Jew, regardless of his or her level of observance or identity, feels some sense of connection to our people. Social distancing is not part of our cultural DNA.
Our prayers and rituals make this very clear.
The Mourners Kaddish cannot be recited without a Minyan of other Jews.
The main prayer of every service, the Amidah, is said in the plural language.
The famous Viddui (Al Chet) which we repeat many times on Yom Kippur, as we beat our own chest, and list all the wrongs we did to other people – again we use the plural.
A Seder celebrated alone is not a Seder!
Can you imagine dressing in a costume for Purim and making noise with a gragger if there are no other Jews with you?
The word for LIFE in Hebrew is CHAIM – it is also in the plural!
The message is profound – we cannot live alone!
We need human contact and relationships.
The very first negative statement in the beginning of the Torah is “It is not good for a person to be alone!” (Adam was the first person who was totally alone until Eve joined him.)
Interestingly, the Torah has a story about Miriam, Moshe’s sister, being quarantined when she got sick with a horrible disease as punishment for attacking her brother.
Moses then begs God to heal her with a beautiful short prayer which every Jew can learn:
“El Nah Refah Nah Lah” – “Please, God, Heal Her, Please!”
We also read in Numbers 12 that Miriam was “shut out of the camp for seven days, but the people did not march until Miriam was readmitted.”
The lesson from this incident is extremely important – we leave no one behind!
One of the greatest statements in the Talmud is Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh –
“All Jews are responsible for one another.”
The Jewish People have a long history of hardships and catastrophes that we overcame.
In two and a half weeks, Jews all over the world will speak about our slavery in Egypt in great detail. However, we will also remember our liberation and exodus.
The ancient aphorism “This too shall pass” can be more helpful today than during other times.
We will defeat this dreadful pandemic, God willing, soon.
As social distancing makes us feel more and more isolated, let us fight against the sense of being cut off from people.
Let us try focusing on the spiritual lessons and values from our Tradition.
Remember the incredibly comforting words from Psalm 23:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For You Are With Me.”
No matter the circumstances, no matter where we are – we are not alone.