On Sunday afternoon, April 19, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks shlita shared insights and ideas about the current situation. He began by stating that it’s a miracle that virtually every country in the world has taken some decision to have a lockdown to stop infecting others. “This is one of the extraordinary events in world history.” It shows that the world is valuing life. Judaism values life. This was in sharp contrast to ancient peoples who did not share our values. The pyramids were built at the expense of so many lives. In ancient times, individual life didn’t count. This was true in the 20th century, as well, during the era of Stalin and communism, for example. “This is the first time that sanctity of life is taken seriously by every country in the world, and that is a miracle.”
How do we balance long-term psychological and economic consequences of this disease? There are no clear halachic answers to this. Holland and Sweden, he shared, are more relaxed. We need wisdom. It is not a simple, ethical, clear-cut matter. We need careful judgment. First, we have to see a clear decline in new infections before we come out of lockdown.
He offered some ways that he personally is dealing with this situation, which can be helpful to us. When we are surrounded by danger and ultimate destruction, we have to say, “Ribbono shel Olam, I place my life in your hands. I trust your decision.” We need a sense of gratitude. “Every morning, I say Modeh Ani.” I compare this situation to the Holocaust to put it in perspective. When we are on our own, like now, we have the chance to talk person-to-person to Hashem. One advantage of t’filah at home is we can slow down and go through Sefer T’hilim. We have to remember that G-d is orchestrating history. “He is the Creator of the cosmos. He is the One who heals the broken-hearted.” Rabbi Sacks pointed out that the above line from T’hilim really touches him. He shared also that music is very powerful. There is wonderful spiritual music welling from the heart that is coming from Israel. He advised us to listen to this. Also, he said it can help to keep a journal.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, rav of the Boca Raton Synagogue, shared that during this time period we mourn the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva. We see now lists of Jewish leaders who have died around the world, and it is so painful. It brings so many questions. If we have health and some level of income, then we need to be grateful.
He taught that we learn in the Chumash that lashon ha’ra caused people to be isolated, so the person who spoke lashon ha’ra had to be isolated. He pointed out that we need to focus on people who are alone, not just now at a time of crisis, but to make sure they are not forgotten during regular times.
Rabbi Sacks shared a teaching of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who taught that we have to change the lamah (why) to l’mah (for what). We must not become caught up in the why. We need to ask Hashem, “G-d what do you need me to do that I have not yet done?” He shared that we need to reach out to the elderly and lonely. Every shul needs a welfare committee that will visit and invite them for meals and phone them daily. We are talking about chesed in the Biblical sense of caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Right now is a wake-up call. We must ask ourselves if we have ignored a person in our community. Our shuls also need to put together business people to help people financially with advice and support. “Somebody else’s gashmiyus is my ruchniyus.”
“This is the first time all humanity is faced with the same problem at the same time.” It emphasizes human solidarity. One microorganism brings us all to our knees. In the same way, something positive could create a tsunami of kindness in the globe. We need to develop humility and make the world safe for our grandchildren.
This shiur can be viewed on www.together.ou.org.
By Susie Garber