Leaning Into Love: A Jewish Message for Lent/Easter 2020

I was honored to be invited to offer remarks at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA) during the Lenten season. Unfortunately, those plans were…altered…by the pandemic. But my message has been posted on YouTube. You can check it out here:

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Wearing a face mask? You’re doing a mitzvah. Make a brachah!

Among the Jewish tradition’s most cherished values is the sanctity of human life. With a few notable exceptions, one must not endanger their life in order to fulfill a religious obligation. And one must violate even the most significant commandments in order to save another person’s life. Saving one life is regarded as the equivalent of saving an entire world, and consequently, taking a life is seen as tantamount to destroying an entire world.

It’s not just about saving people who are in mortal danger (known as pikuah ha-nefesh). Jewish tradition also expresses its commitment to the supreme importance of human life through laws related to the preservation and protection of life. This class of commandments is known as shmirat ha-nefesh; literally, protecting life. It is derived from a biblical verse which teaches, “Be cautious with yourself and seriously guard your life” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Rabbinic tradition understood this verse to mean that we are not allowed to knowingly endanger our lives or engage in behaviors that would likely result in disease or death. And we are similarly obligated to take steps to protect others’ lives, like building a parapet around the roofs of our houses to minimize the risk of someone accidentally falling.

Seen from this perspective, Jews ought to regard actions which help prevent us and others from contracting or communicating the novel coronavirus, like thoroughly washing our hands, wearing face masks, and remaining at home, as mitzvot, sacred obligations. These behaviors are more than wise acts of self-preservation and kind contributions to public health; they are holy deeds, religious requirements, with the force of divine injunction.

And if behaviors like thoroughly washing our hands, wearing face masks, and remaining at home are mitzvot, then they should be preceded by blessings. Relevant blessings accompany the performance of most other mitzvot.

To offer a timely example, consider matzah, the unleavened bread Jews are obligated to eat on the first night of Passover. Before eating matzah at the Passover Seder, one is supposed to recite, “You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about eating matzah.”

We recite a blessing before fulfilling a commandment to indicate that the deed we are about to perform is thoughtful and deliberate. We affirm that we are doing the action intentionally, and for the sake of fulfilling a religious obligation. In this way, we affirm the spiritual significance of the behavior, turning the thoughtless and the mundane into the intentional and the sacred, and helping us live with more meaning and purpose.

Since protective acts like hygienic hand-washing, wearing face masks, and sheltering in place should be considered mitzvot, at least during this pandemic, it seems to me that they should be preceded by an appropriate blessing, just like other mitzvot. Requiring a blessing would underscore the significance of these acts and encourage vigilant observance.

Additionally, since several months into the coronavirus pandemic these protective actions increasingly feel habitual or burdensome to many, requiring a blessing would properly elevate them, reminding us of their profound sanctity.

And yet, for some unknown or inscrutable reason, there are not traditional blessings over each and every act that could be considered shmirat ha-nefesh. There is a blessing for constructing a parapet: “You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us to make a parapet.” But by tradition, building a parapet is the only act of protecting life that has an associated blessing.

Since there is a traditional blessing over erecting a parapet, it is tempting to simply apply that blessing to actions like hygienic hand-washing, wearing face masks, and staying at home. There are undoubtedly parallels between putting a fence on one’s roof for others’ safety and, say, putting a mask on one’s face for others’ safety. Still, it feels odd to use the same blessing for both acts. While analogous, they aren’t identical. Putting on a mask while reciting “to make a parapet” could diminish, rather than enhance, the intentionality of the act.

Instead, I propose creating a new blessing for the actions we take to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy during a pandemic: “You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about protecting life.” Or, in Hebrew: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, Asher keed’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzeevanu al sh’meerat ha-nefesh.

While it is unusual for contemporary rabbis to create and mandate new blessings, it is not without precedent. And moreover, this novel blessing is in no way radical. It merely fills a gap in the tradition, giving an inexplicably blessingless commandment a traditional benediction like other sacred deeds.

More importantly, a blessing will remind us that these actions are not just good but godly, not just for safety but for sanctity, not just required but righteous.

Originally published in The Forward: https://forward.com/opinion/443804/wearing-a-face-mask-youre-doing-a-mitzvah-make-a-brachah/

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What God Needs Now: A Brief Pandemic Passover Reflection

“Once, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was traveling out of Jerusalem. Rabbi Yehoshua was walking behind him and saw the Temple in ruins. He said, ‘Alas for us, for this place which lies in ruins was where the people Israel atoned for their sins!’ Rabban Yohanan said to him, ‘My son, do not be aggrieved, for we have another, equal, way to atone. And what is that? Loving and kind deeds. As Scripture teaches (Hosea 6:6): for I desire deeds of love and kindness, not sacrifice.’” — Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 11a

I had a really hard time the first two days of Passover. My congregation couldn’t gather as usual to celebrate, to worship, or to learn. And our Seder at home on the first night was, let’s say, not great. I felt as though I was sifting through Passover ruins rather than inhabiting, in Heschel’s words, a cathedral in time. I have always loved this holiday so much. I love it so much I wrote a book about it (have I mentioned that? 😉🔌). Not to be able to celebrate it properly — which is to say, the way I’m used to celebrating it, but also in a way that truly honors the story and enables it to come alive for me and my kids — filled me with an overwhelming sense of loss. Compounding that feeling was the crushing mix of grief, stress, frustration, anxiety, and anger I have been wrestling with since this all began. It was a lot, and it was hard.

And then this morning I rediscovered this teaching. It helped. Rabbi Yehoshua feels a significant, debilitating loss. The Holy Temple had been destroyed, and consequently, the sacrificial rites had been cancelled. The manner of religious observance he was used to — the only way of connecting to God he knew, the way he assumed was indispensable and irreplaceable — had ceased to be. Rabban Yohanan reminds him that as long as we can perform deeds of love and kindness, we can equally if not better fulfill our religious obligations.
Passover was not what I wanted it to be this year. The Seder was not what I hoped it would be. But a meaningful and joyous Seder, ultimately, is not what God requires of me, or of us. In a time of destruction, to focus on pristine ritual misses the point. The world needs our loving and kind deeds. That is the spiritual work the moment demands.
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A Eulogy for Helen Zimm (z”l)

Today, I had the painful honor of burying my dear friend and teacher, Helen Zimm. The experience was made even more painful by the fact that most of Helen’s family and virtually all of her community were not able to be physically present to mourn and memorialize her together. We did the best we could using the technology at our disposal, but it was not how I envisioned saying goodbye to this extraordinary woman. Below is the eulogy I delivered. I hope my reflections appropriately honor her life and legacy. And whether you knew Helen or not, whether you were able to watch the funeral service via Zoom or not, I hope you join me in celebrating and learning from Helen’s life.
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It is perhaps strangely fitting that we gather — both those of us here in person and those who are with us virtually and spiritually — to bid farewell to our beloved Helen Zimm in these most unique of circumstances, because our dear Helen was herself so profoundly unique. There has never been anyone in this world like Helen Drexler Zimm, and there will never again be anyone in this world like Helen Drexler Zimm.
Part of what made Helen such a singular figure is her extraordinary story. Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1924, Helen was the oldest of three sisters, the first-born daughter of Solomon and Brandla Drexler. Her father was the owner of a soap factory, but when the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, they seized the factory, just as they seized the businesses and property of all Polish Jews. The Drexlers fled from Lodz to a town between Lodz and Warsaw, where they lived for about 3 years. In 1942, Solomon learned that the Nazis were planning on deporting the Jews in the town to concentration camps, so he bought false papers for Helen and her youngest sister. Fortunately, Solomon knew a woman by the name of Mrs. Kaszusczek, who was willing to forge documents for the Drexler girls. Helen survived the war as a housekeeper with an assumed Christian identity. Her parents were murdered by the Nazis, but Helen and her sisters survived.
After the War, Helen went with her middle sister, Nana, to live with an aunt in Toronto, Canada, while her youngest sister, Halina, moved with her husband, Alan, to Richmond. Mentioning Alan, it feels appropriate at this moment to wish him a full and speedy recovery. Through Halina and Alan, Helen met the love of her life, Alan’s brother, Sol Zimm (of blessed memory), a kind and loving man who had survived Auschwitz.
Soon after Helen and Sol married, they moved to Richmond and built a rich life and a beautiful family. They had two children, Melvin and Brenda. Two multiplied to four when Melvin married Sheila and Brenda married Larry. And four multiplied to eight when grandchildren Sophie and Clara and Rachel and Jason were born. But family, for Helen and Sol, was more than just one household. To Helen and Sol, Halina and Alan’s family were as their own: nieces and nephews Ruth, Rebecca, Josh, and Sol; nieces and nephews in law John, David, Allyson, and Nina; grand-nieces and nephews Jeremy, Jordana, Aaron, Ethan,, Jordan, Tova, Yossi, Yoni, and Michael. And Helen remained intimately close with her sister Nana (of blessed memory), as well as Nana’s son, Murrary, and Murray’s partner Henry.
If it was possible for Helen to love something as much as she loved her family, it was being Jewish. Helen LOVED being Jewish. She was a Zionist through and through and was extremely passionate about the State of Israel. Helen was blessed to visit Israel many times, including for the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in 1981 along with her entire family. Helen was also a life-long Hadassah member, a supporter of Camp Ramah and B’nai Brith, and a devoted member of Temple Beth-El.
I am honored to say that Temple Beth-El was Helen’s home away from home. This, perhaps, is a good opportunity to acknowledge another dimension of Helen’s uniqueness — her personality. For a woman so short of stature, Helen had an enormous personality, an undeniable and unmistakable presence. When Helen Zimm was in the room, you knew it. And indeed, scarcely a Saturday went by without Helen’s indelible presence toward the front of Temple Beth-El’s sanctuary — and, it must be said, that almost literally NO ONE voluntarily sits close to the front, so it shows how singular a personality Helen was, and also just how deeply Helen loved her Judaism and her shul — singing loudly, dancing in her pew, and giving instantaneous and spontaneous sermon feedback. I often felt that having Helen in the pews was about as close as I would ever come to being the pastor of an African-American church, with every line that was agreeable to Helen being met with a hearty “OO-MAYN!” or an enthusiastic “AM YISROEL CHAI!” As a point of personal privilege I will say that nothing was more invigorating than preaching with Helen in the pews, and there are fewer things that I will miss more than Helen’s active participation during my weekly messages. Since her father was a Kohen, Helen was until very recently our go-to “first aliyah,” the first person honored with reciting the blessings over the Torah each week, and we could always count on her to exclaim “FOREVER AND EVER!” after she intoned the concluding blessings over the Torah, to which the congregation would enthusiastically respond, “FOREVER AND EVER!”
Indeed, for the clergy and congregation at Temple Beth-El — and I know I speak for my colleagues like Cantor Rosenblatt and teachers like Rabbi Creditor when I say this — Helen was like a member of our family; perhaps even more emphatically, like a limb of our body. The clergy and the congregation did everything in our power to love Helen as she deserved. Members like Harry and Lois Hirsch dutifully took her to and from services; our gabbais David Ruby and Ed Mollen gave her back cushions for her seat; congregants lined up to sing and dance with her during prayers and to serve her kiddush lunch afterwards.
We did this, I must say, not only because we loved Helen, but also because we so deeply revered her. We honored her for her story, of course; but more importantly we honored her for the way her past shaped her worldview and her values. We honored her for who she became over the course of her long life, what she brought and what she taught to her family, to her community, and to us all. We honored her for her heart and her soul, for her wisdom and for her righteousness. And as I took some moments over the past few days to reflect on Helen’s life and legacy, it was this — Helen’s singular spirit — that stood out most prominently in my mind.
From her experience surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, Helen learned to care about the welfare of others and to take responsibility for them. Consider, for example, Mrs. Kaszusczek, the woman who saved the lives of Helen and her sister by providing them with fake documents. According to Helen’s testimony for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mrs. Kaszusczek was a “righteous gentile.” She risked her life — literally — to help save the Drexler girls. Helen witnessed in Mrs. Kaszusczek an extraordinary, miraculous, courageous act of moral resistance, learning that if there was goodness to be found in the world, it was to be found in people who concerned themselves with and who took responsibility for the welfare of others.
Helen lived this value — in the way she cared for her family, in the way she cared for her congregation, in the way she cared for our community, our people, and our homeland; in the way she committed herself to imparting her story and her wisdom to countless strangers, young and old.
It is fitting, then, that we escort Helen to her body’s final resting place on Erev Pesah, for Pesah is nothing if not a celebration of ordinary people heroically concerning themselves with the welfare of others: the midwives who in defiance of Pharaoh’s decrees saved Hebrew babies, for example, and Moses who intervened when an Egyptian was beating an Israelite, despite his having no obligation — no right, even — to do so.
It is similarly fitting to lay Helen to rest on Erev Pesah because the holiday emphasizes the essential role of memory in shaping our present and guiding our future. When we read the Haggadah tonight, it will tell us that each of us must see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt, and that we must tell our children the story of our past — because seeing ourselves in that story, and reminding our children of where we came from, are critical to understanding who we are today and who we are called to be tomorrow. That’s what Czech author Milan Kundera meant when he wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” The oppression of the Israelites starts with an act of forgetting: Pharaoh forgets, perhaps deliberately, about Joseph. And consequently, our liberation is bound up in our remembering.
Indeed, according to legend, memory itself made the Exodus from Egypt possible. Because of a promise made generations earlier, the people could not leave Egypt without Joseph’s bones, but no one knew any longer where the bones were buried. No one, that is, except for an extremely elderly woman named Serach bat Asher, Serah the daughter of the patriarch Asher, who happened to have been alive during Joseph’s time and miraculously lived to see the Exodus, several centuries later. Serah stepped forward to help Moses find Joseph’s bones; only then the people were able to leave Egypt. Through this story, our rabbis teach us that we cannot leave Egypt — both the literal Egypt of our past oppression and any metaphorical Egypt in which we might find ourselves now or in the future — without holding our past with us, and so we cannot find liberation or work toward redemption without memory keepers, those who know where the bones are buried.
Helen, too, was a memory keeper. She was well-read, and her mind was a sponge for the content of books, as it also was for the musicals and old Hollywood movies she loved. Helen could — and would — sing the songs from her favorite musicals like Fiddler on the Roof fully, flawlessly, and joyfully — right up to her last days. She was also a meticulous keeper and organizer of photographs and other mementos. Yes, the past was always alive in Helen’s mind. This is not because she lived in the past. On the contrary, as I’ll come to in just a moment, Helen very much found great joy in the present and embraced life in the here and now. Rather, Helen held on to the past because she knew how memory shapes our present, how it forms our identity and informs how we relate to our world, and how it therefore in no small part determines our destiny. And so Helen spent many years not only sharing her story of survival in classrooms and in museums, but also emphasizing to students of all ages that, in her estimation, her past imparted above all the importance of tolerance, compassion, and love today and tomorrow.
And the primary lesson Helen learned from her past was the sanctity of life. Perhaps she learned this from her parents, or from the righteous gentiles she encountered during the Shoah, all of whom risked their lives to save hers, teaching her that there is nothing so precious as a life, and no act so sacred as saving one; that in spite of all the horrors she had lived through there was still meaning, purpose, and goodness in the world — that life was worth living, and the world was worth saving. Perhaps she learned this from the simple fact of surviving — that her life was a miracle, a gift, something to be cherished and seized at every moment, something that was absolutely forbidden to waste. Or, counterintuitively, maybe she learned this from the tragedies that befell her — like burying her beloved husband and her two precious children — that life is fleeting and fragile, and therefore demands to be cherished.
Whatever the reason, Helen passionately, fervently, zealously LOVED life. All the way to the very end, Helen loved singing, playing, laughing, and dancing. She loved to look good; she went to the beauty parlor every week because, in her words, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Every Shabbos morning with Helen in the pews was an absolute celebration of life. And similarly every visit with her at Parkside offered ample opportunities to laugh, to sing, and to dance — all the way to the very end. Even when she could no longer eat, even when she could barely speak, she would spontaneously erupt in song, singing “Shabbat Shalom, hey!” or “To life! To life! L’chaim!” Helen truly cherished and celebrated life; you might say that she literally refused to let go of life; instead — it at least seemed to me — Helen stayed alive physically until there was literally nothing left, and she essentially evaporated into the bonds of everlasting life.
That Helen could endure the unthinkable hardships she encountered throughout her life and emerge more kind, more deeply committed, and more vivacious is a testament to her extraordinary character. It is therefore easy to miss that who she became in spite of — or, indeed, because of — the traumas she experienced was a deliberate choice on her part.
And, therefore, her life is Torah for us, for we, too, can flourish as Helen did in the face of the tragedies which befall us. Helen’s secret was her faith and her love — her faith in and love of God, her faith in and her love of the Jewish people, her faith in and love of life. Her faith and her love were like deep roots that tethered her — to her ancestors, to her people, to her descendants, to God — when destructive winds blew.
We, too, can rise from the ashes so long as we are able to embrace that kind of faith and that kind of love. In doing so, we too can weather life’s storms — including and especially this current painful and challenging moment — and even become strengthened through them, secure in the knowledge that life is worth living and that people are worth saving; firm in the hope that, ultimately, goodness will prevail; and committed to play a part in the ultimate triumph of the good.
We will remember Helen for concluding her prayers — for punctuating her conversations, even — by proclaiming “forever and ever!” That exclamation expressed her faith that the fire of the spirit of the Jewish people could never be extinguished. That faith sustained her and inspired her.
May Helen’s memory sustain and inspire us, so that her legacy will endure forever and ever, and also so that we can play a role in bringing that blessing into fruition, ensuring not only that the Jewish people endures but also that our world will be repaired through God’s sovereignty, and the Infinite will reign in righteousness and peace forever and ever.
May Helen Zimm’s soul be bound up in the bonds of everlasting life, and may her memory inspire us all to lives of blessing.
Amen.
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Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

I wrote the following statement along with my multi-faith partners on the Standing Together Steering Committee of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities:

These are turbulent and anxious times. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended so many of our lives. We have little clarity about the path ahead. And to make matters more challenging, we are also being asked to keep ourselves away from our normal support systems and communities.

We implore our community to stand together in this moment of crisis by:

  • Rejecting bigotry, practicing solidarity with targeted communities (in particular communities of Asian descent), and treating each other with compassion, empathy, respect, and trust. This virus is not of a people, a geography, race, ethnicity, age or social class. We are all in this together.
  • Respecting the advice and guidance of our experts who are working endlessly to minimize the impacts of this crisis. Practice social distancing and follow regulations regarding public gatherings. Stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
  • Being creative in our ways of building community, providing support, and, if relevant, practicing our faith.
  • Supporting those who are most vulnerable, not only to illness, but also to economic displacement. Refrain from hoarding goods and supplies also needed by others in the community, give as generously as possible to local relief efforts and emergency funds, seek out ways to safely volunteer your time and talent, advocate on behalf of those whose lives and livelihoods have been upended by this crisis.
  • Offering words of encouragement and hope. Call or write to those who may be isolated or suffering. Share messages of gratitude, joy, and kindness on social media. Be gentle with one another.

This challenge confronts all of us. By standing together, we will not only overcome it, we will come out the better for it.

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A Pandemic Blessing and Prayer

Ever since Lilah, our oldest child, was born, Adira and I have sung a prayer called “B’shem Hashem (The Angel Song)” to our children each night at bedtime, using a melody from Rabbi Solomon Carlebach. It’s a lovely ritual, but like all rituals, it is more or less at this point a somewhat mindless routine. But last night, for the first time in a long time, the prayer hit me especially hard. To understand why, consider the words of the prayer, translated into English: “In the name of the Infinite, the God of Israel — may the angel Michael be on my right, and may the angel Gabriel be on my left. May the angel Uriel be in front of me, and may the angel Raphael be behind me. And may the Imminent Presence of God be over my head.”
In Jewish tradition, the angel Michael symbolizes possibility; the angel Gabriel, strength; the angel Uriel, clarity; and the angel Raphael (behind us to catch us if we fall), healing. And God’s imminent presence is an image evoked in the Torah and in later Jewish tradition to depict loving, nurturing protection. The image of these angels surrounding us is meant to be a prayer for support; or, if you prefer, a faithful affirmation that “God has ordered angels to guard you wherever you may go” (Psalm 91:11).
I want to bless all of us as Adira and I bless our children each night: May possibility and strength be close at hand. May you see the path ahead with clarity, And may healing be near when you fall. And may you always feel divine encircling protection. For those of us who believe in God, remember that God is with you, always. And for those of us who may wrestle with belief in God, remember that we are all in this together. In either case, you are not alone.

 

Finally, this Shabbat, we will conclude Sefer Shemot, the biblical Book of Exodus, and exclaim the words, “Hazak, hazak, venit’hazek,” be strong, be strong, and may we continue to strengthen ourselves and each other. Let us, this Shabbat, turn these words into a prayer — may we have the strength to endure this challenging time, may we have vigor of body and resilience of spirit, and may we do whatever we can to support each other.
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Coronavirus is our Amalek. The Torah’s lesson is clear: Protect the vulnerable.

As Jewish communities gather to celebrate the Purim holiday under the shadow of a global pandemic, it is worth heeding a piece of wisdom embedded in one of the scriptures most closely associated with the holiday. On the Sabbath before Purim, observant Jews traditionally study a biblical passage known as Parashat Zakhor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). This text recounts how the ancient nation known as Amalek attacked the Children of Israel in the wilderness shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. “Remember,” admonishes the passage, “what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt, for they surprised you on the way, and they hit from your rear all the vulnerable who were behind you.” The text concludes with the exhortation to “blot out the memory of Amalek from underneath the heavens — do not forget!”

The text raises a question: The biblical Israelites had a lot of enemies, so why is Amalek singled out for unique condemnation? Perhaps it’s because there is something singularly evil about targeting the vulnerable, and the kind of foe who would do such a thing is someone God commands us to be eternally vigilant against. It’s a deep lesson: Regardless of how peaceful and prosperous we are, the pernicious force that targets the weak is uniquely enduring and persistent.

Amalek is a good metaphor for diseases like COVID-19, which uniquely threaten and hurt those who are already the most vulnerable: the marginalized, the poor, the sick, the weak. Many of us are fortunate enough to be in positions where we can, so to speak, ride out the storm. We can avoid public gatherings, we can stock up on food and supplies, we have paid sick days, we have ready access to quality healthcare and the resources to afford it, we have family and friends who can help pick up our slack or the ability to hire outside help when we need.

But many others are not so fortunate, and natural disasters like disease pandemics expose these inequities because they primarily and disproportionately impact those who are already marginal and vulnerable.

This, I think, points to the real reason why the Torah is especially concerned with the history and legacy of the Israelites’ encounter with Amalek. It’s not exactly because Amalek targeted the vulnerable. That is to be expected; it’s what enemies like Amalek do. No, it’s because the Children of Israel should have known that leaving their weakest members exposed and defenseless put them at great risk of harm from an enemy like Amalek. As one modern Hasidic master, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Zachs, puts it, “If the Israelite nation had not forgotten these vulnerable people, and rather had brought them under the protection of the Divine Presence… by including them with the rest of the population, Amalek could not have harmed them.” (Iturei Torah, Parashat Ki Teitzei).

That’s why we are admonished to remember what happened with Amalek. That’s why we are commanded not to forget: Because there will always be enemies that target the vulnerable, whether those enemies are human or forces of nature, whether those enemies are deliberately hostile or indiscriminately damaging. Our job is to keep the most vulnerable among us front of mind, to ensure the weakest among us are protected, included in our communal concern and shielded by our care.

Our job, to quote Scripture, is ultimately to create a society in which there are no needy, where justice prevails and equity reigns.

Unfortunately, our real-life track record at heeding this warning is not so good. For example, here in Virginia, where I live, one million people — including 81% of food service workers, 75% of childcare workers, and 47% of nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides — have no paid sick leave, and are forced to go to work when they are ill and send their children to school when they are sick. To add insult to injury, when the first Virginian tested positive for coronavirus, the Virginia Senate refused to vote for a bill to require employers to offer paid sick days to workers, according to Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. The next day, the Senate killed the bill for good. This is not only a gross injustice, but an urgent public health concern. When folks have to go to work when they’re sick, contagious illnesses will spread. And when our representatives fail to provide for their welfare, we are at least partly responsible.

Systems like this empower Amalek-like enemies such as coronavirus, because they leave the most vulnerable among us uniquely exposed. It is incumbent upon us to ensure everyone is brought equally under the community’s protective care. And when we work to build such a just and equitable society, the deadliness of pandemics and other natural disasters can be blunted.

Conversely, when we fail to uphold this responsibility and people die, their blood is, at least in part, on our hands.

May those who have been infected with coronavirus experience a full and speedy recovery, may the families of the bereaved find consolation, and may we have the strength and insight necessary to make our way through these anxious times.

Originally published by The Forward: https://forward.com/opinion/441172/coronavirus-is-our-amalek-the-torahs-lesson-is-clear-protect-the/

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