Points of Light Rabbi Avi Weiss
March 27, 2020
Can anything push away the darkness of the coronavirus?
The world is grim these days. COVID-19 has driven people indoors. Streets are desolate. Spirits are low.
The dangers of the hour and the global pain and suffering are very real, but there may also be points of light that we can take away.
With the advances of humankind, we often think we're in absolute control. We regard the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages, which killed one-third of Europe's population, and the Spanish flu, which took 50 million lives in the early 20th century, as things of the past. Indeed, we believe we know more than the populations who lived through these upheavals, but truly, whatever advances in knowledge we might have made are only a small fraction of a much bigger unknown picture.
We’re all in this together: Pride in our ethnic group, religion or nationality often defines who we are and is the focus of our energies even as it separates us from each other. COVID-19 reinforces the teaching that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. The pandemic knows no colour, no faith, no borders.
Physical distancing, social closeness:
Over and over we’ve heard the call to “socially distance” ourselves from others. And yet, while on the surface COVID-19 has physically separated us, in other ways it has become the catalyst to socially connect us in new ways. Perhaps, as I’ve heard suggested, the term “social distancing” should be replaced with “physical distancing.” The virus has drawn us closer to one another in new and rewarding ways.
Reaching out gives meaning:
There is a spiritual maxim that at moments of greatest personal concern, one should direct one's thoughts, prayers, and actions to others. By channeling concern away from ourselves toward the well-being of others we can be personally uplifted.
Ennobling our physical blessings:
Refraining from shaking hands, limiting our walking in public spaces, covering our mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing can give us an opportunity to reevaluate the role of these physical blessings—hands, feet, mouths. The imposition of such restrictions teaches us to use our physical attributes with greater care and purpose—to give with our hands, to step up and help with our feet, to choose carefully the words that come out of our mouths.
Reflection and self-growth:
The Sabbath, in the Jewish tradition, has been described as a day for reflection. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that while during the week we focus on “having more,” the Sabbath is a time to “be more.” Now, the enforced "Sabbath" of being homebound brings a host of challenges that are different for each of us, but it also gives us an opportunity for personal reflection and growth.
Over the years, my goal as a rabbi has always been to “show up” in times of need. But today, as a senior with cardiac history, I’ve been forced to adopt a different approach: to try to offer support from a distance. In Jewish mystical tradition such restraint is called koach hatzimtzum—the power of holding back. After all, by showing up on the scene not only would I be jeopardizing myself, I would also be putting others at risk. Yet even in these circumstances, we can all do our best to “be there” by reaching out, making a few calls, finding creative ways to connect, especially with those who are alone.
Self-restraint is affirmed in the B’rit Hadasha:
2 Timothy 1:7
“…. for God gave us o a spirit not of fear but p of power and love and self-control”.
Instead of self-control, many English translation say ‘a sound mind”. This Greek word is only found hhere throughout the new covenant. (G4995; self-discipline, with an implication that this discipline demonstrates prudence and wisdom)
Yeshua said "I am the Light of the world."
The true light, coming into the world, gives light to every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him; but the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. But whoever did receive Him, those trusting in His name, to these He gave the right to become children of God. They were born not of a bloodline, nor of human desire, nor of man's will, but of God. And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.
These are times that demand a thoughtful balance. We are understandably frightened for our own sakes and for the well-being of family, friends, for those close to us, and for the entire world community. Still, however difficult the time, we must push ourselves to do all we can to remain hopeful and to find safe and creative ways to join together—breathing and living the message that a little bit of light pushes away the darkness.