Coronavirus: Handling with tender care

Fearing danger is entirely normal.  We all do so, as we should.  Developing systems designed to keep us safe – reducing infectiousness, treating the infected, discovering vaccines – are each essential and primary.

Yet alongside these urgent priorities, a question arises.  Is there a way to look upon an infected person with any emotion other than fear? Caregivers are trained to do this well.  Perhaps the rest of us can pause to consider empathizing with those who are afflicted.  Their quarantine need not keep them remote from tender compassion.

This week’s portion of Torah holds a lesson concerning the intersection of rigid systems and their higher aims.  A detail in the Tabernacle’s design of beams surrounding the structure touches on their posture.  Acacia wood beams are to be positioned standing upright (Ex. 26:15).  A favorite Hasidic comment notes that their posture alludes to the manner in which an upright tree ascends as it grows. The way of growth, derekh g’dilatan, is more than a botany lesson.  It can suggest that any praiseworthy deed may be performed in ways that help us grow (literally ‘the way in which they generate growth’). 

Rigid dimensions may contain pliable lessons.  Growing, improving, striving to become slightly better versions of ourselves today than we were yesterday, this is what Judaism stirs and stimulates within us.  Mistakes happen.  Repeating mistakes should not.  Lessons learned should preclude making the same mistake twice.

So now, as we face the fears of a pandemic, perhaps we can also strive to meet this challenge as a means for growth derekh g’diliatan.  Corona comes from the Latin meaning ‘halo’ or ‘crown’.  May our willing hearts become turned toward the personal plight of those who are afflicted in ways that hallow empathy and compassion more infectious in our world.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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