Why Are So Many Individuals Still Making Masks?

If Big Companies Are Making Face Masks By The Thousands Why Are So Many Individuals Still Making 20, 30, 50, 125 Of Them?

With the help of some friends
Much to my surprise, my drugstore was selling masks. They were only $1.00 each, and all met CDC standards. Since I have a maddening tendency to misplace things, I bought four of them. They were plain, a solid blue color — there were no logos of my baseball team, memes, emojis, or cartoon of Rambos singlehandedly wiping out the evil virus enemy.

It was not so long ago you had to do a serious search to find these potentially-lifesaving items.

(with permission of Arnie Draiman, copyright owner)

Now I have seen articles that many companies are making them…and titanic Giant General Motors is manufacturing the much more complex plastic face shields and ventilators. The swift shift to re-tooling is reminiscent of WWII when automobile makers stopped producing cars and started turning out tanks, jeeps, and other critical vehicles for the American war effort.

As it happens, the question I pose in the title is answered partially in the Talmud (Sotah 8b): Every single pruta (the smallest coin of the day) combines to make a great sum of Tzedakah money.

You don’t have to be a mathematical whiz to know that about Tzedakah, but the rules of numbers also applies in any other area of life, e.g., 1,260 Legos needed to assemble the Empire State Building @ 4 Legos per minute makes 315 minutes to build it piece by piece; Dunkin Donuts throwing out two dozen (a moderate estimate — I’ve asked) unsold donuts a day = 8,760 a year, 2 murders/week in a city=104 murders annually.

With Tzedakah money adding up, however, you need to know where your $1, $5, $10, $18, or $25 does or does not make a difference. But that is for another Dvar Torah.

Some answers why many individuals are making masks:
1. Because they can.

a. People are looking for ways to use their own personal talents to fight this enormous-beyond-imagining crisis.
b. They have a very human need to do something to help fill all those extra hours of being confined or semi-confined.
c. They have a very human need to do something meaningful, and to do it hands-on. Also, it is possible that the maskmaker may feel something spiritual in this relatively simple Mitzvah.
d. Additionally, maskmaking just may become be an outlet for an until-then-undiscovered flow of Mitzvah-creativity.

2. Making masks gives the maskmakers an opportunity to use their Mitzvah-problem-solving capabilities: Doing research any eight-year-old can do on the Internet, they may discover which segments of the population are not likely to have masks, and then finding an agency to distribute the masks to these vulnerable people for you. And, if the maskmaker is so moved and is able to distribute them personally, that is, of course, an option. I have a personal example: A former summer Tzedakah-intern of mine, Dr. Mark Bunin, has distributed masks to homeless people in Los Angeles.

3. While I do not have the statistics, I have heard and seen reports that many of the maskmakers are giving the masks away for free. This is a unique form of Gemillut Chassadim/acts of caring, loving kindness. Also, I do not know for what percentage of these individuals this is a first-time (and, certainly, an uplifting) experience.

4. Some maskmakers came to the conclusion that they have been presented with an opportunity to make a greater difference in the lives of other people than they had ever realized previously.

5. The maskmakers are goodhearted people. Some are self-aware of this. For the others who do not yet believe that they are goodhearted, the act of maskmaking should give them a clearer sense of self, The Best Self. As the Army TV ad a few years ago had it, “Be all that you can be.”

6. The stimulus for becoming a maskmaker may simply be the result of discovering a bunch of unused fabric that’s been sitting in a box for a long time, and they just looked at the material at just knew it could be transformed into a Great Mitzvah.

7. Maskmaking may offer an opportunity for socialization, providing a welcome break from the isolation and semi-isolation justifiably thrust upon all of us for our own and everyone else’s safety and wellbeing. It’s a variation of the old-time sewing circle, except that now everyone will be wearing masks and sitting at a social distance.

8. By nature, well-documented psychological and physical benefits will happen:

a. It’s all well documented — endorphins will release at a quicker pace, contributing to good physical feelings, physically, and, to a degree, function as an anti-depressant.
b. The actual hands-on labor of making the masks will prove beneficial to people with certain specific physical hand difficulties — though this is not the maskmaker’s purpose.

9. For those people who believe, as I do, that there is no such thing as a small Mitzvah, just consider: This mask – (a) How much does the raw material cost? A few pennies? (b) For someone who is not clumsy with his or her hands or who can learn to operate a computerized and easily-programmed sewing machine that makes any design, how long would it take to make one? 20-30 minutes or less? (c) How much does this Mitzvah object weigh? A couple of ounces? And yet, this little, easy-to-make, incredibly inexpensive, almost feather-light — this Mitzvah-Thing — can save lives.

10. Perhaps most of all, no matter how many masks are being made by businesses, there are never enough for everyone who needs one.

A second Talmudic text (Bava Batra 9b) provides an additional element to help us understand why individuals are making masks, even though manufacturers are producing them by the tens (hundreds?) of thousands:

Ulla…told me in the name Of Rabbi Elazar, “What does this verse (Isaiah 59:17) mean: ‘He (God) wore victory (Tzedakah)* like a coat of Mail**’? It teaches us that, just as a coat of mail is composed of an accumulation of many individual rings, so, too, every single pruta combines to make a large sum of Tzedakah money.”

The new insight in this text is protection.

11. Every mask potentially protects the recipient against the virus, just like the coat of mail protected the soldier over the centuries from the enemy’s arrows.

12. In addition, as we know is true with so many acts of Gemillut Chassadim/loving, caring kindness, there are benefits to the maskmakers themselves — even beyond the good engendered by doing a Mitzvah. It may help the person cutting, sewing, shaping the fabric and making and attaching the over-the-ear cords — it may help to overcome the sense of helplessness and, possibly even hopelessness as this catastrophe drags on with no clear end in sight.

*Several times in The Book of Isaiah, the meaning of “ tzedakah “ is “victory”.
**A coat of mail is a type of armor consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh. It was generally in common military use between the 3rd century BCE {D.S. – Roman/Talmudic times} and the 14th century CE. (Wikipedia)

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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