My mother tells me the past week reminds her of her wartime childhood. The same things are happening – people learning to make do, it not being safe to go out and mix, most people caring about their neighbours, while others hoard what they can for themselves.
However, she says there is one big difference. Instead of peoples of the world trying to destroy each other, there is no human enemy. Instead, we have the real opportunity as a world of human beings, all equally potentially vulnerable to the same disease, to co-operate to do our best to remove the threat of COVID-19.
Three rabbinic principles are at the forefront today. The first is dina d’malchuta dina, the law of the land is the law. It means we have to take the precautions our government decrees in order to keep ourselves and each other safe. It is very painful for families which had, for example, looked forward to a bar or batmitzvah at this time or are having to deal with a funeral for a loved one not being followed by a shivah, but we have to prioritise health.
That leads to the second principle, pikuach nefesh, the primacy of saving life. We need to be protecting those whose health could be threatened by the virus and enabling them to live safely and as healthily as possible both physically and mentally.
This leads to the third principle, al tifros min ha’tzibbur, do not separate yourself from the community. We cannot look after ourselves only.
The panic buying we have witnessed in the supermarkets has been done without care or consideration for those who have the same basic needs as ourselves, but cannot elbow our way to the front of the queue. It has to stop.
Much more though, in the spirit of the Blitz, people are looking after each other, with neighbourhood Whats App groups and simply checking on neighbours.
Our synagogue is in the process of rapidly setting up Community Circles, bringing together circles of 10 households across the generations in a very local area to contact and help each other through this tough time.
These three principles of making a decent society, in accord with God’s guidance, apply at all times: Taking government advice seriously, looking after our own and other’s health as
a first priority and finding new ways to keep community alive will make these weeks much more liveable and maybe even help us to build a better society for the future.
- Mark Goldsmith is Senior Rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue