The Torah Shemot (Exodus) 23:5 commands: “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” If we must help even our personal enemies, then there is the implicit obligation to assist those who are not our enemies.
The terminal preposition in the Torah passage is “’emo” (עִמּֽוֹ), “with him [the owner of the animal]”. Commentators have explained that the “emo” exempts the passer-by from giving assistance if an able owner of the animal sits by and leaves the entire task to the passer-by, doing nothing to extricate himself and his animal from the situation. People who need assistance are expected to do what they can to ameliorate their predicaments, and then we are expected to give what assistance we can.
The healthcare system is now under stress. Those employed in healthcare have reason to be concerned about their work environments. My own wife, a hospital staff physician, recently was ordered into isolation for a week after one of her colleagues tested positive for the virus (she has since returned to work after testing negative).
And there is a wide perception, not entirely unfounded, that many people now infected by the COVID-19 virus would not be so afflicted had they not breached certain common-sense regulations and practices to reduce their probabilities of infection. It accordingly would be quite understandable (albeit not justifiable) if frustrated healthcare professionals were to make statements to the effect of “Here I am on the frontlines of exposure to the virus, taking every precaution available to minimize the danger; why should I treat those people who knowingly flout the rules and become infected?”
From such an attitude is a short, steep, and slippery slope to weaponizing the healthcare system for one’s personal animosities, grudges, and political aims. The danger is real. Physicians such as Josef Mengele, Che Guevara, and George Habash have abused their medical skills and credentials to commit acts of terror and genocide. More recently, healthcare professionals (and trainees) have been found to have made previous threats on social media to do so. Make no mistake about it: The healthcare system is no less vulnerable to nefarious public sentiment than it is to biological viruses.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, whose failure to adequately internalize the severity of the CoronaVirus certainly contributed to much morbidity and mortality in his Bnei Brak constituency and beyond, was diagnosed with COVID-19 just before the Sukkot holiday; there certainly is much public anger out there towards him.
Appeals are now being made for the public to pray for his recovery. Even though I have strongly criticized him for his lethal missteps regarding the WuFlu epidemic, I have added the rabbi’s name, HaRav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim ben Pesha Miriam, to my personal “Refuah Shleima” list.
While I certainly wish for him to recover and live to be 120 in good health, there is also a self-interest motive in this. Specifically, my praying for his recovery is intended as a “vaccination” from the Schadenfreude “virus.” If I were to join those who are taking cruel pleasure in Rabbi Chaim’s affliction, then I would be party to any “infection” of the healthcare system by ill will amongst the public.
The threat of the Schadenfreude “virus” is real, as is now playing out in the United States amongst those who feel animus towards President Donald Trump. I pray that it does not happen here in Israel. We in Israel must do better than that.