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For the good of all

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CHIEF RABBI DR WARREN GOLDSTEIN

Every human being is an entire world. Which is why we must do everything in our power to follow the medical guidelines drafted by leading experts in the field to combat coronavirus and curtail its spread. For, if our collective efforts result in saving even one life, it would all have been worth it.

These guidelines are simple but require total dedication on our part if they are to be effective. As ever, we can look to our holy Torah for guidance and inspiration. The Talmud teaches that the saintliest sages of the time distinguished themselves by their care for other people, and the painstaking measures they took to avoid causing harm. It describes how if they came across a shard of glass on the ground, they would bury it deep in the earth so no one could possibly come to harm.

And let’s be clear: with the coronavirus, we need to be extremely vigilant in case, G-d forbid, something we do or don’t do causes the sickness or demise of another human being. We all need to be so careful to wash our hands, to self-quarantine if we have travelled overseas, to isolate ourselves and get tested if we display any symptoms of illness, and to follow all the other medical guidelines which have been published.

A lot rests on our compliance. There are many in our community whose immunity is compromised due to old age or chronic illness. Furthermore, we live in a country where millions of people lack access to adequate medical care. A widespread outbreak would be catastrophic.

The Torah tells us, “Do not place blood on your home.” We have a Torah obligation to make our homes physically safe – to put a railing on a balcony and a fence around a swimming pool. Certainly, we need to ensure that we don’t have blood on our hands when it comes to this virus; that we observe the letter and spirit of these mitzvahs (commandments), and follow the example of our saintly sages.

This is a difficult time for everyone. There is fear and uncertainty everywhere. The economic consequences have been devastating. The world has become dark and confusing. Everyone feels vulnerable. This vulnerability is all the more shocking for our prior assumption that at this stage of human history, with all our technological and scientific prowess, an invisible virus couldn’t bring the entire world to its knees. And yet, here we are, with waves of fear sweeping the globe, healthcare systems bracing, and governments battling to cope.

How do we cope? Part of the response must be to give love, care, and comfort to our families, communities, and the country at large. G-d says in the Book of Genesis right from the beginning of creation, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We draw untold strength from each other.

But we also turn to G-d for comfort and strength. At a time like this, we need to deepen our faith and connection to our creator, turning to Him with our heartfelt prayers, knowing that He cares and He listens, and that the world, and our lives, are in His loving hands. This is not a simplistic belief that somehow everything will turn out exactly as we wish; it’s a deep faith grounded in generations of Jews who have known in their bones that G-d is our loving father, that He cares for us, and that ultimately, whatever happens is part of His loving plan for us.

And in our prayers and all our efforts, we should have in our hearts not just our precious Jewish community, but the welfare of all South Africans, and indeed all human beings. The coronavirus sees no difference between people. It’s blind to race, religion, social and economic status. Our sages have always taught us, based on our tradition from Sinai, that all human beings are equal before G-d. As it says in Pirkei Avot, “Beloved is the human being created in G-d’s image.” It’s the G-dliness that radiates within every human being that defines the preciousness and dignity of all.

At a time like this, we need to embrace our common humanity. We need to reach out in love and care to everyone, mindful that we are all brothers and sisters, all children of Adam and Eve, all part of one human family.

And as we cry out to our creator, we also rededicate ourselves to becoming better people. Our sages teach us that moments of crisis can be awesome catalysts for personal growth. That we can leverage feelings of fear and vulnerability to become stronger, to get closer to G-d, and closer to our fellow Jew and fellow human beings.

Let us continue to observe the protocols. And let us continue to pray for the welfare of every human being. And, as we turn our hearts to G-d, let us have in mind not only ourselves and our families, and our Jewish community here in South Africa, but all South Africans, Jews all around the world, and indeed every human being.

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