“BLESSED ARE YOU, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us through Your commandments, and commanded us to … .”
This is how the Jewish “commandment” blessing begins, which we recite about all aspects of our lives.
The beginning is always the same, with the last part naming the action about which we are praying, or for which we are thankful.
Jewish tradition teaches us that we are expected to recite at least 100 blessings a day, and as we continue to watch the COVID-19 pandemic explode across our country and the world, that is not always easy.
One of the endings of this blessing, “to protect life,” is much needed during this crisis.
How can we be sure we are protecting life?
The Talmud teaches us that “saving one life is like saving the entire world.”
Listening to the stories from the nurses and doctors on the front lines as they describe the conditions during their 12-hour shifts, without adequate personal protection, is heartbreaking.
Hospital hallways are lined with beds and they scramble from patient to patient trying one procedure after another as entire organ systems begin to shut down.
In the end all they can do is simply hold a patient’s hand as they die, since families are not allowed in the hospital.
Watching the tears stream down their faces, bruised from hours of continuously wearing masks, they beg us to please stay home.
They are terrified that there will be a surge which will totally overwhelm them and even cost them their own lives.
The blessing about protecting life has never been more crucial.
As always, the Torah provides us wisdom as to how we should act in protecting the lives of others. In three recent portions from Levitcus 19.1-26.2, the Israelites are commanded to have laws that ensure holiness, kindness and taking care of the most vulnerable.
We are enjoined to live a life of holiness when God says: “You shall be holy because I, your Eternal God am holy. (19.9)
We are told to leave some of our harvest on the ground to ensure that the poor are treated with kindness.
“…You shall not reap all the way to the edges of the field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” (23:22).
And to ensure that all people, especially those in distress, are provided a secure life, we must protect the land and regularly free those from bondage.
“Six years you shall sow your field … but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land … You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (25.1, 10).
Best and worst
Sadly, we are seeing the worst of human nature during this crisis.
Workers are being assaulted, even shot, because they have asked people to maintain social distance or wear a mask — both actions which are needed to protect lives.
We hear public officials claim that sacrificing lives is the cost we must pay to open up the economy, fundamentally saying that essential workers are now expendable workers.
None of this shows the holiness, kindness or caring that God requires of us through the teachings in the Torah.
Thankfully, we are also seeing the very best in us.
There are countless examples of people helping in any way they can.
Neighbors are checking on those living alone. People are bringing food and supplies to the quarantined. Parades of cars drive past children’s houses for their birthdays. Lines of cars park on the road to a cemetery so a family sees the caring of the community for the loss of their loved one.
Despite financial difficulties, donations to food banks and other charities are pouring in.
People are making thousands of masks to donate.
Restaurants which are closed down provide hospital workers with meals.
Teachers drive by their students’ homes with signs of love and support.
A high school principal drives 800 miles to individually greet all 600 graduating seniors.
Communities come out every night to cheer and sing in appreciation of the front line workers.
So many have put together wonderful online performances which bring joy to everyone or post hilarious quarantine stories with which we can all identify.
Music and humor are healing balms in this crisis.
There has not been a more important time for us to show holiness, kindness and caring.
We do this by wearing masks, keeping our distance and staying home when possible.
This is how we show our love for others. This is how we fulfill the blessing in which God commands us to always protect life.
Kein yehi ratzon…..may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected].