“My uncle in Iran passed away from coronavirus” Ramtin wrote yesterday. “He was gentle and kind. He’d been battling cancer for several years. His family had to stand 100 meters away and watch him be buried by men in hazmat gear. My aunt is now sick. Please take this virus seriously.”
Today’s un-chartered waters require us to unlearn lessons. Lessons like ‘Don’t become addicted to technology’. Lessons like ’90% of life is about showing up.’ It’s time to shutdown our startup world.
The term which describes a life-saving obligation is pikuach nefesh. It literally connotes an ‘eye-opening prioritization of survival’. The word ‘pikuach’ can relate to one of the earliest blessings we pray each morning after waking up. We thank God for ‘opening our eyes’ (pokaiach ivrim). A few weeks ago, our portion of Torah taught of how bribery can blind a person’s eyes. “Bribery blinds the clear-sighted and twists the words of the just” (Ex. 23:8). It urges us, ‘Don’t be derailed by greed. Rather see need and do what is the right thing to do’. Curiously, the verse’s wording ‘y’aver p’kichim’ reverses precisely the sequence of the words in our early morning blessing. Again a reversal.
The reversals required by life-threatening risk can be jarring. Beyond unpleasant, they too can become harmful. Isolation too can be lethal. Higher risk has been highlighted for those over 50. Also, let us also not forget that despair-related deaths among those under 50 – including those due to suicide, overdose, and liver problems – have become so prevalent, that for three consecutive years America has seen a decline in life-expectancy even though people are living longer.
Yet ‘confining reversals’ can also awaken ‘spacious creativity’. A friend, Rachel Sharansky Danziger, elegantly reminds us, “The distance between us can be painful. But it can also be the birthplace of an intimacy that is yet to come.” Another friend texted me yesterday, “Just sending you a virtual germ-free hug. I’m sure this is a very hard time for you.”
Also, consider how little there is in common between those of us who can work from home and the hourly wage-earner who cannot fathom doing so. And consider how much we have in common as frail human beings with our adversaries, or with those of a different skin-color or birthplace or identity or beliefs.
‘Eye-opening prioritization of survival’ insists that we shift gears. These reversals will pass. But since they are time-sensitive, let us then bring sensitivity to time.
Dear God “Understand the turbulent branching of my thoughts. See the road that brings me sadness, and lead me instead on the path of eternal life” (end of Psalm 139).