A lot is awry at the moment: political violence in America, white nationalists in the streets, and a general feeling of unease as 5783 kicks off with a renewed sense of dread and antisemitism. A recap of October.
032: The Big Birthday, Uncertainty, & Pikuach Nefesh: Saving Lives & Taking Care of Ourselves
Uncertainty. We’re all united in it right now, are we not?
My Rabbi Susan Goldberg spoke so well of it from our recent Nefesh community Zoom call. Uncertainty is bewildering and draining and we’re all going through it right now, for a very long period of time. We don’t know the ending.
I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom that cancer patients share: We just can’t know. Don’t expect life to be predictable or fair. Don’t try to tame the situation with some feel-good lie or confident prediction. Embrace the uncertainty of this whole life-or-death deal.David Brooks
This helped me a lot, too: That feeling you can’t quite figure out? It’s grief. Grief for lives, friendships; and because of disconnection, distance, money, jobs, and uncertainty:
It’s grief and it’s also fatigue, so I’m not alone here:
In the middle of this it’s important to know that Judaism teaches Pikuach Nefesh: a life comes before all else.
Most of Jewish law can and should be set aside in order to avoid endangering a person’s health or safety. It’s not just OK to bypass mitzvot to save life, it’s required, so when Jews hear Cheeto Caligula call for Americans to go back to work even though it will kill people, because profit, we cringe. And we won’t do it. I mean it shouldn’t be okay for anyone to trade lives for money or convenience, but Jews are specially obligated.
So we’re staying home to save lives. Those of us who aren’t selfish, crazy, in-denial kids on spring break or certain Republican governors get that and support it. This crisis was utterly avoidable, however, and we’ve never experienced this before, so the uncertainty pains.
Yesterday [ edit: March 25 ] I was going to become Jewish on my 40th birthday. I still turned 40 in theory though I’m celebrating much later. I also turned in my car (ugh) and I’m moving this weekend (double ugh). Things are rough. Uncertainty.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, our economy, and our world. I fear mass unrest, starvation, isolation, looting, and more. The so-called President seems to be on the verge of celebrating mass deaths in American cities because they voted against him. That’s not far-fetched, he’s been gearing toward that awhile; it’s why he was elected, and it’s why he’s quarreling with democratic governors and not invoking the Defense Production Act until today to make life-saving ventilators and even just masks.
As much as we must protect life right now, we must also prepare ourselves mentally; if we’re not both alive and physically and mentally well, we can’t hope those that need it. I’ve written of the warped brand of Christianity that Trump now leads. It’s a cult, and a death cult to boot, and now we’re seeing it in action.
We must respond.
Don’t go back to work. Don’t pay rent [edit: if you can’t]. Don’t go out. Stay put, love each other, save a life. And be ready to fight for the lives of others. I don’t know what that means or looks like.
But as Jews, Jew-jacent, and Jew-ophiles, you and I must not be surprised at evil men exploiting this plague to hurt people… and they’re already blaming the Jews.
The Big Birthday, Uncertainty, & Pikuach Nefesh: More reading
- Most of Jewish law can and should be set aside in order to avoid endangering a person’s health or safety, My Jewish Learning
- Pikuach Nefesh: The Jewish Value of Saving a Life, My Jewish Learning
- Screw This Virus! We had to be set apart in order to feel together, David Brooks, New York Times
- Pikuach Nefesh, Social Distancing and a Rabbi’s Case for the Need to Protect Life, by Rabbi Robert Harris
- The Cult of the Shining City Embraces the Plague: Those who see Trump as a messianic figure believe the coronavirus will put a fallen world right again.