fbpx
Monday, July 13, 2020

L’Chaim: Jewish Wisdom for a Time of Pandemic

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

The coronavirus is now officially a worldwide pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases, thousands of deaths and also tens of thousands of people who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19. More than half of the 195 countries in the world have been infected.

Some people are responding with a level of panic rarely encountered, while others brush off this pandemic as if it is already under control. Both responses fail because they see our duty as isolated and individual, as if it’s all about keeping me safe and distracted, regardless of the human cost or global impact. This isolated individual is a biological lie and a cultural dead end. We are ourselves only in relationship to one another and to all creation.

We are taught (Exodus 19:2 and Rashi) that the reason the Torah was given at the foot of Mount Sinai is that at that particular moment, in that particular spot, the Children of Israel came together as one. Transcending their fragmentation and disputes, they circled that mountain united in hope and possibility. It was precisely because we were, for that instant, one united camp, that the One God would be heard.

This moment also calls us to form a united camp, not only the Jewish people, but all humanity coming together in the only kind of cosmopolitan universalism that counts: an affirmation of life, of caring and of hope.

Bein Adam Le-Havero: Our Responsibility to Sustain One Another

Finding the Derekh ha-Beinoni, the Middle Path, to steer us between the crashing waves of hysteria and panic on the one hand and the battering rocks of denial and avoidance on the other will require determination and resolve. “We will hear and we will do” (Exodus 24:3) must become the mantra of this season. While it may be tempting to do nothing and to pretend that nothing has changed, we must mobilize the courage to first listen to the health experts and to then transform their guidance into government policy and personal practice.

Each of us must find the inner strength to be Nachshon, the brave Israelite willing to plunge into the sea so it could part and allow the Children of Israel to pass to freedom. By daring to change our ways, we can take on a life of service for the sake of human health.

In that spirit, we must curtail our exposure to large crowds and to the possibility of infection. The coronavirus is the new reality, and it won’t go away. But limiting the range of its contagion and slowing its spread will literally create the difference between life and death for many of our vulnerable beloveds (older people, immunologically compromised people, and others). Jewish tradition teaches that love (chesed) is not merely an inner emotion, it is a way of behaving to others that makes the love manifest. We owe these dear ones our compassionate acts of self-restraint and responsibility: repeated hand-washing with soap, avoiding touching our faces, greeting others with a wave or smile instead of handshaking or hugging, heightened levels of sanitation at work and in public places, alternatives to public assemblies and staying home when sick or exposed. Our choices can literally redeem the world.

It is not enough to change behavior and to enact policies to care for one another if we don’t also find better ways to care for ourselves. Humans begin to shrivel without contact with others. In excessive isolation we risk pandemics of the soul.

Bein Adam Le-Atzmo: Responsibility to Self-Care

It is not enough to change behavior and to enact policies to care for one another if we don’t also find better ways to care for ourselves. Humans begin to shrivel without contact with others and without access to the joys of life. In excessive isolation we risk pandemics of the soul.

We must find ways to reach out to one another, to give and receive love and care so that we are nourished for the task ahead. The biblical image of receiving manna each and every day, and of having to move our bodies to harvest this physical manifestation of love can inspire us through this wilderness, as well. Let’s use this time to strengthen whatever daily practice inspires and sustains us: daily prayer, psalms, meditation, exercise, a stroll, good fiction, poetry. Making time for inner renewal and physical vitality will be crucial in the stressful days and weeks to come.

That self-care itself has to keep the limits of our increased isolation malleable and flexible. Connecting to those we love through calls, texts, shared meals (Shabbat, anyone?) and streamed movies with family and friends will keep us alive. These occasions of relating strengthen us for the tasks we face and remind us that this, too, is life. Judaism’s most beloved prayer, the Shehecheyanu, locates God as the one who enlivens us, sustains us and brings us to this moment. Life is precious and invites celebration.

Judaism creates a calendar filled with opportunities for mindful joy, communal gathering and celebration. Being more attentive doesn’t require that we stop relating to one another and connecting. We just need to be more creative in making sure that we get what we need.

This pandemic will pass, creating a new normal in its wake. How we respond, supporting the scientists and their research to develop a vaccine, how we modify our behavior to limit the spread of the virus and to dampen its consequences, and how we find ways to feed our souls and to care for one another, these are the challenges and possibilities of this moment.

We do not venture into this fray alone. We walk with one another, carrying a Torah of wisdom and bearing the Divine image that allowed our ancestors to proceed forward to Promise. That Promise beckons us, as well. Let’s journey together!


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and is Vice President of American Jewish University

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

Pandemic Times Episode 69: What does the rise of Anti-Americanism mean for the Jews?

New David Suissa Podcast Every Monday and Friday. Reflections on the connection between Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism. How do we manage our lives during the coronavirus crisis?...

A Change in Leadership and Ambitious Expansion Plans Impacts the Los Angeles Jewish Home

After 24 years as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Molly Forrest is stepping down and making a lateral move, to...

Austria to Create Award Named for Simon Wiesenthal

BERLIN (JTA) – An Austrian parliamentary committee has paved the way for the creation of an annual prize to encourage the fight against anti-Semitism. An...

What’d We Miss?

In our 18th episode (Chai!), we're in the Zoom where it happens with our first episode since May. We're recommitting to thoughtful conversations on representation;...

A Coronavirus-Shaped Piñata and Alcohol-Infused Cupcakes Buoy COVID-19 Medical Workers

“The cupcakes were something they looked forward to for days.”

Actor Nick Cannon Says Zionists, Rothschilds Have ‘Too Much Power,’ Praises Farrakhan

Actor Nick Cannon currently is under fire for espousing comments that have been criticized as anti-Semitic, including that Zionists and Rothschilds have “too much...

Virtual Jewish Food Course Offers ‘A Seat at the Table’

Featuring the expertise of noted chefs, cookbook authors, scholars and restaurateurs, it’s a comprehensive guide to the Ashkenazi cuisine.

With High Holy Days Looming, COVID-19 and Social Change Present, Rabbis Are Facing New and Unique Challenges

For those of us who are clergy, we are acutely aware the Jewish year is winding down.

NFL’s Redskins Announce Intention to Change Name After Years of Pressure, Including From ADL

(JTA) — Yielding to mounting pressure from sponsors and advocacy groups, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced Monday that they are changing their name. The team’s...

‘The Violin Players:’ A Jewish Girl’s High School Introduction to Anti-Semitism

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to travel the country to speak to audiences of all ages. Without fail, someone always asks what...

Culture

A Change in Leadership and Ambitious Expansion Plans Impacts the Los Angeles Jewish Home

After 24 years as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Molly Forrest is stepping down and making a lateral move, to...

Actor Nick Cannon Says Zionists, Rothschilds Have ‘Too Much Power,’ Praises Farrakhan

Actor Nick Cannon currently is under fire for espousing comments that have been criticized as anti-Semitic, including that Zionists and Rothschilds have “too much...

Virtual Jewish Food Course Offers ‘A Seat at the Table’

Featuring the expertise of noted chefs, cookbook authors, scholars and restaurateurs, it’s a comprehensive guide to the Ashkenazi cuisine.

‘The Violin Players:’ A Jewish Girl’s High School Introduction to Anti-Semitism

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to travel the country to speak to audiences of all ages. Without fail, someone always asks what...

Former Staff Accuse Acclaimed L.A. Squirl Restaurant of Serving Moldy Jam to Customers

"The moldy jam was a daily concern," said a former Sqirl pastry chef.

Latest Articles
Latest

Pandemic Times Episode 69: What does the rise of Anti-Americanism mean for the Jews?

New David Suissa Podcast Every Monday and Friday. Reflections on the connection between Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism. How do we manage our lives during the coronavirus crisis?...

A Change in Leadership and Ambitious Expansion Plans Impacts the Los Angeles Jewish Home

After 24 years as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Molly Forrest is stepping down and making a lateral move, to...

Austria to Create Award Named for Simon Wiesenthal

BERLIN (JTA) – An Austrian parliamentary committee has paved the way for the creation of an annual prize to encourage the fight against anti-Semitism. An...

What’d We Miss?

In our 18th episode (Chai!), we're in the Zoom where it happens with our first episode since May. We're recommitting to thoughtful conversations on representation;...

A Coronavirus-Shaped Piñata and Alcohol-Infused Cupcakes Buoy COVID-19 Medical Workers

“The cupcakes were something they looked forward to for days.”

Hollywood

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

‘Expecting Amy’ Highlights a New Comedy Dynamic of Jewish Mothers Making, Not Being, the Jokes

Jewish moms like Amy Schumer, who were once the material, have become the premier comics of this age.

Podcasts

Pandemic Times Episode 69: What does the rise of Anti-Americanism mean for the Jews?

New David Suissa Podcast Every Monday and Friday. Reflections on the connection between Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism. How do we manage our lives during the coronavirus crisis?...

What’d We Miss?

In our 18th episode (Chai!), we're in the Zoom where it happens with our first episode since May. We're recommitting to thoughtful conversations on representation;...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x