Torah For Today: Dying alone

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Torah For Today: Dying alone

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a topical issue and looks at Jewish texts for a response

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

A recent news story highlights the plight of people living on their own who died of coronavirus and, as a result, have not been found for up to two weeks – by which time their bodies have started to decompose. What does the Torah say about this?

God asked Moses to leave the Israelite camp and die on the mountain of Nebo, all alone.

Why was there no hue and cry to find Moses? I once addressed this topic to a meeting of Chevra Kadisha – those who prepare the deceased for burial – and one prominent rabbi remarked to me that, all too often, it is the ‘Moses’ of the congregation, its rabbi, who goes pastorally unnoticed by his congregation.

Perhaps God was testing the Israelites to see whether, since the episode of the Golden Calf, they had learned to ask: “Where has Moses gone?” out of compassion, rather than rebellion.

Poignantly, many Chevrot Kadisha observe a fast day each year on 7 Adar, the anniversary of Moses’ death.

In modern Britain, neighbours who have no contact with each other may have felt embarrassed during this pandemic to ask to exchange phone numbers.

However, not knowing your neighbour is not tolerable in Judaism, as we are commanded to “love thy neighbour”.

If we have not done so already, we must knock on the door of neighbours we know to live alone; of those who may be vulnerable or we have not seen in a couple of days, we should enquire as to their welfare.

This fulfils the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, enquiring after the welfare of the sick.

We, the people of Moses, should be the first to ensure that our neighbours are safe.

Lives could be saved or, at least, the agony of a lonely passing and the undignified lying in state avoided.

Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force

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