My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, is fond of relating the following personal story:
“In 1974, after the Yom Kippur war, I was the rabbinic administrator of the OU’s Kashrus Division. The recently concluded Yom Kippur War had a traumatic effect upon the country. ‘Ein bayis asher ein sham meis’ – almost 3,000 soldiers had been killed, and 12,000 more were wounded. The notion of Israeli invincibility that had developed after the Six-Day War was punctured. You could literally feel the depression on the street.
“At that time, I was in Eretz Yisrael and went to see Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l to discuss different issues with him. Afterwards, I asked him his opinion about the current situation.
“Rav Shlomo Zalman replied that, at the time, klal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael were one big hospital – Kulanu b’veis cholim. Some were in the cardiac ward, some were in the psychiatric ward, some were in intensive care, and some were only outpatients, but everyone was in the hospital.
“What’s the first rule visitors are told in a hospital? Keep quiet. Does a doctor walk into a patient’s room in the morning and scream at him, ‘Why aren’t you better? Why don’t you get out of bed?’
“What is everyone hollering about? Everyone is sick and everyone is scarred. We didn’t patch up the trauma of the Second World War yet. The constant struggle of the last hundred years still weighs upon the Jewish people. So why are we shouting at each other? Instead, we should focus on trying to help and heal each other. Ish es rei’eihu ya’azoru, u’l’achiv yomar chazak.”
It’s a powerful idea and one worth bearing in mind constantly. At times, we get upset at people and become frustrated with their views or behaviors. We need to remember that people are generally doing their best. There is so much about their lives that we have no idea about. There is so much pain and confusion raging within others that we cannot see or know. We need to stop shouting and judging. What Rav Shlomo Zalman said decades ago is perhaps even truer today – everyone is in the hospital, everyone is struggling, and everyone needs patience and understanding.
I must add a personal reflection: A few weeks ago, I was sidelined by COVID-19. Almost everyone who heard that I was sick was sympathetic and concerned. But there were individuals whom I felt were judging me for contracting the virus. Or, they were more concerned with how my contracting the illness affected them than they were about how I was feeling.
Besides the insensitivity of it, such an attitude is very concerning. In fact, in some ways it symbolizes part of the decline of our society. When people become so concerned with themselves that they cannot see or think about others, they tend to become increasingly more narcissistic and self-absorbed.
Beyond that, when people feel justified in being critical of those who are sick, suffering, and less fortunate, it demonstrates a much more serious level of apathy and being unable to see beyond one’s own perspective.
There was a city legendary for such behaviors. It was known as Sodom, and it was ultimately destroyed.
The Jewish people are by nature merciful and strive to perform chesed. That is the light we spread in the darkness.
Rav Shlomo Zalman taught us that we need to stop shouting at each other; and in the world of COVID, we need to stop judging each other. No one has all the answers. But together we can transcend and forge ahead.