In the last few months, I have heard a subtle but significant change in the prayers offered by our communities as we have implored Hashem to remove from us the plague of COVID-19. In place of the traditional conclusion asking for the health and healing of Am Yisrael, a new request has begun to appear – that God grant healing to the whole world as well.
Not that such an appeal is entirely new – on the contrary, it is rooted deeply in classical liturgy. Nonetheless it is possible that with the passage of centuries the nations have been somewhat forgotten from our prayers, and that the present crisis has aroused within us a higher consciousness, an awareness that all the peoples of the earth are connected with an unbreakable bond. We all know that even if the number of sick here in Israel is low, if it remains high elsewhere there is cause for concern – our health depends on the health of the whole world. Yet, there is a phase of consciousness which lies beyond this pragmatic approach, one in which we pray for the peace and wellbeing of all humanity as an expression of redemption, of our desire that the world should achieve wholeness, peace and rest.
During the three weeks of national mourning which precede the fast of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the month of Av), the Holy Ari z”l was accustomed to pause in his learning and deeds at midday in order to visualize a redeemed world. I first encountered this custom in the writings of the Rabbanit Yamima Mizrachi, who called upon all of her students to take up this practice of imagining how the redemption might actually appear. She teaches that the purpose is very specific – to prepare for the coming of the Messiah on the 9th of Av, so that at the very least in our imagination we will already be there, we will be prepared for redemption. Only once we are able to conceive of a redeemed world, one of righteousness, justice and compassion, only then will we be capable of receiving the Messiah. In the meantime, should he tarry, we will be ready to build for ourselves a better world because we can see in our mind’s eye how it appears.
In these days of pandemic it is even more important to push ourselves to imagine another existence, to strive to see beyond the horizon of illness, isolation and fear which confines us. It is critical that we visualize a State and a world which are healthy and whole, and fill ourselves with the hope that we will emerge from this period as better people, as a more caring society. We must conceive of a life filled with the consciousness of what connects us and not what divides.
This is why my heart broke when I heard of Finance Minister Yisrael Katz’s recent decision to halt the distribution of emergency government funds to NGOs which support the weakest sectors of our society. He held back these resources from Holocaust survivors, abused women and the poor in order that not one penny should go to organizations which support another vulnerable population – asylum seekers from Africa.
With a decision like this hatred overcomes love, placing a barrier between us and all the lofty ideas which I described above. It contradicts our desire for the complete redemption, something which we must imagine and toward which we are obligated to work – a world in which everyone merits to peace, prosperity and health.
Through our State and its policies we have the historic opportunity to build an exemplary society, one founded on the Torah’s vision of love for every human being, all of whom were created in the image of God. In this difficult time of pandemic, and these special days of Av, I pray that we merit to imagine, and to build, a society which is more loving and concerned, bound by greater solidarity, for the sake of Am Yisrael and the whole world.
This piece was originally published in Hebrew in “Arutz 7” https://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/445087