A Healthy Distance
The other day I was at the bank when two Asian people entered, one wearing a white medical mask. Everyone’s heart lurched. Were they protecting themselves or us? The tellers told me it wasn’t the first time and wished they themselves were permitted to wear them. How funny I thought it would be if robbers came and for a change saw all the tellers masked too. But the bigger picture is just not funny at all. People are avoiding each other and public venues like the plague, and maybe it is one.
I can’t help but think of the teachings of our rabbinical sages who have cautioned us through the ages, “Keep a distance from an evil neighbor, do not become attached to the wicked, and do not abandon faith in [Divine] retribution.” (Perkei Avot 1:7). When our own Talmud and Torah tell us to stay away from bad influences, whether they be Torah shirking people or sinful environments, we shrug a shoulder and deem ourselves invincible. We think our friends who drink too much, or are liars, or lazy, or cheap, or gossipers, or gluttons, or classless, or thieves won’t affect us. When we are intimate with the wrong people in the wrong ways, we seem not to worry too much. We deem the rabbis and the teachings they preach obsolete and quite frankly, irritating. We block our ears. After all, it’s only our souls at stake. We take the risk. Yet now, with fear of the Coronavirus, the world is coming under lockdown with nations and peoples banned and or isolated willingly or by mandate. Why? Because we want to live. Now it might affect us physically; we have skin in the game. All of a sudden the consequences of congregating in the wrong place or with the wrong people are existentially clear. It could kill me! And just as a virus is microscopic and beyond our natural means of perception, so too are the ravaging repercussions on our soul by engaging in what is forbidden and by not discriminating with whom we "hang out' and where we hang. Perhaps violating the Torah won’t produce a cough and fever, but when mankind violates G-d’s law it sickens itself and all creation.
Judaism teaches that every physical manifestation has a spiritual counterpart. Nothing happens here on earth that is not reflected on High. Thus even if it’s currently a manufactured fear and hype, perhaps it is time to question our behaviors on many levels and on many fronts. G-d wants our attention. Perhaps it’s time to start saving our souls and not just our hides. I have often written how our entire lives, mostly make-believe, are manufactured in China from knockoff designerwear to, well, everything. But now the supply chain is suspended, production halted and the stock market is in free fall as a result. Now, with no access to a life made in China, we are compelled to look at that which is made by G-d: Our soul. There is a story of the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who was tortured and interrogated by the Soviets for his “counter-revolutionary” activities, i.e., setting up Jewish institutions. When his interrogator put a revolver to the rebbe’s head to “inspire” his cooperation, the rebbe calmly replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have one G‑d and two worlds [this one and the world to come].” While entire communities are under lockdown and people driven into isolation, I can’t help but think of my kindergarten punishment when I was put in a corner or left alone in a classroom and told, “Now sit there and think about what you did.” Perhaps now with much of air travel grounded, it’s time for our souls to take flight and to think about what we did.