The Coronavirus is now officially a world-wide pandemic. More than 100 countries have been infected and thousands have died. By the time you read these words, these numbers will likely have risen. Some people are suffering from extreme anxiety and panic, while others are going along with their business as if everything is under control. Both responses fail because they see people as living as isolated individuals. At this time of global crisis, it is imperative that we see ourselves in relationship to each other and to all creation. The imperative of Judaism has always been “do not separate yourself from the community.”
We do not need to allow this pandemic to drive us apart. We have two extraordinary gifts that can help us surmount even the most daunting of difficulties. We have each other and we have God. The time has come for all us to form a unified camp, not only for the Jewish people, but all humanity coming together to affirm life, to care for our loved ones and especially for those who may be home all alone with no one to talk to or check up on them. It is very tempting to retreat into our own concerns, but now is the time for action and to do our God-given part for ourselves and for the others who may need our support. If we are creative, we can find the ways to support each other, to enjoy fellowship, to express our love and concern, to lift those who are fallen, and even to celebrate and have fun.
As many have noted, the term “social distancing” is a misnomer. What we need to practice is physical distancing. We need to use all available resources to maintain social connection – especially at this time. Let us not allow the physical requirements of containing the virus fray the ties that bind us to friends, loved ones, community and those in need. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Kanefesky: “Every hand that we don’t shake must be a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we place between ourselves and another must become a thought as to how we might be of help to the other, should the need arise.” For now, our life of service ought to include vigilance in following all the health directives that we hear about each day. By practicing handwashing, avoiding face touching, practicing physical distancing and observing other guidelines of our health experts, we can collectively “flatten the curve” and reduce the burden on our healthcare system.
So, what can we do? We can donate to funds that care for the needy – who are experiencing greater hardship than ever. We can support small businesses. We can continue our involvement in synagogue, study and community organizations by shifting our involvement online, to maintain the strong bonds of community we so much value. [Thank goodness for the internet and social media and platforms that allow us to connect virtually.]
We should take advantage of our time at home to do things that we have not done because we lacked time or opportunity: reading books, learning a new skill, saying daily prayers, meditating, reading some of the beautiful poems in the Book of Psalms, exercising, or texting, calling, and connecting virtually with friends and with members of our communities who live alone for whom the days are long and lonely. By thinking more creatively we can benefit from our newly “found” time wisely in order to add meaning to our lives. Our family recently connected virtually to play a game of Family Feud created by our granddaughter!
God-willing this pandemic will pass as quickly as possible, likely creating a new normal in its wake. Hopefully, we will discover new ways to find our own souls and care for others so that our journey together will be a source of blessing.
Please join me in this prayer:
Our God, God of Healing, we ask for your Presence for all of those in need of healing. Take away the fear, anxiety, and feelings of isolation from people receiving treatment or under quarantine. Give them a sense of purpose in pursuing health and protecting others from exposure to the disease. Be with those who make decisions that affect that lives and future of our families, communities, country and the wider world. Inspire and invigorate people developing better tests to diagnose the virus, vaccines to prevent it, and protocols and communication to eliminate the disease’s spread. May the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable to You, O God, Our Rock and our Redeemer. And may You, our Source of Strength, bless those in need of healing with the renewal of body and the renewal of spirit.
Years ago, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav wrote: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.” His words beckon us to journey together. Wishing you safety, health and peace of the soul.