Today is May 31, 2020 -

Congregation Beth Israel

A spiritual oasis for the Jewish community

6 Dundee Park
Andover, MA 01810

(978) 474-0540

The Rabbi’s Column

The Interdependence of All Human Beings
“Whether we realize it or not, each of us is eternally in the “red”.
We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women….”

“Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow human beings…and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

These two quotes, spoken by Albert Einstein and The Rev. Martin Luther King, respectively, while timeless and universal in nature, have become even more germane and compelling with the current Covid-19 Pandemic, a disease that makes no distinctions based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or gender identity. In the words of Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of United Nations, “it is a public health emergency-but it is far more. It is an economic crisis. A social crisis. And a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.”

Hillel, the great 1st Century C.E. rabbi, calls upon each of us, especially at challenging times like the present, to strike a balance in our own lives between caring for our individual well-being and that of our families, and caring for the well-being of others, especially the well-being of those whose needs may be greater than our own.

And while recognizing that none of us has the time, talents, and finances to single-handedly, or even as a synagogue community, address the many challenges created by a crisis like the Coronavirus Pandemic, our sacred texts make equally clear that our inability to solve or remedy a problem in no way relieves us of the responsibility to do all that we can! [Pirkei Avot Ch.2:16]

Each day, for example, millions of Americans leave their homes and go to work as health care providers, seamstresses sewing protective masks and gowns, police and fire people, pharmacists, shelf-stockers, clerks, and cashiers, delivery persons, etc., placing their own health and that of their families at risk to serve the greater community.

Others of us have the luxury of working from our homes, while still others have voluntarily decided to stay at home, and in doing so are protecting, not only the health of their own families and themselves, but are, at the same time, protecting others from contracting this dreaded disease.

I would like to now offer two important ways in our Tradition that each of us can do our part to respond to this Pandemic and to bring peace and healing to our own synagogue community and to the greater community without, in any way, risking our own health and well-being.

Whether one defines a mitzvah as an “obligation” or a “good deed,” no mitzvah in our Tradition is held in higher regard than that of “visiting the sick,” bikkur cholim in Hebrew. Performing this mitzvah, according to our sacred texts, is one of the primary ways that we humans can emulate the ways of God, and is one of the few mitzvot that bring reward in this world and in the world to come.

Today, the mitzvah of bikkur cholim has been expanded to include, not only physically visiting, but calling, face timing, Skyping, and Zooming, and, not only visiting the sick, but also reaching out to the homebound, those living alone, those grieving a major loss, etc.

This dreaded virus, combined with our being an older community, has heightened the importance of and the need for the mitzvah of bikkur cholim even more in our synagogue community. It is primarily for this reason that I will be holding a teaching and a class on the significance of, and how to feel more comfortable performing, this mitzvah at 10:15 am on Sunday, May 3rd. You may attend the online teaching either by phoning the number or clicking the zoom link that Amy will be sending out prior to the meeting.

I hope and trust that you will be able to attend this teaching, and if you are so inspired, will consider becoming a member of our CBI Cares Committee.

The second way that each of us can do our part to fight the effects of this dreaded disease is through the giving of Tzedakah. While millions of Americans have been adversely impacted financially by the Pandemic, no group has been more adversely impacted than the poor. The homeless population in our country has doubled, with the City of Los Angeles, alone, now having 70,000 homeless families, a number of whom are children.

Here, closer to home, there are those in our own community, who have lost jobs or had their income curtailed. No organizations have been harder hit than the homeless shelters and food pantries in our community. The CBI Board and I are now considering starting a Covid-19 Tzedakah Fund here at the synagogue to provide assistance to those in our own and in the greater community; or you may prefer to give to the charities of your own choosing.

A charity I know is in need is Lazarus House, located in Lawrence and on whose Board I serve, which serves meals to approximately 800 families each week, and which number is growing as a result of the Pandemic. Lazarus House has started a new program, “Porch Pick Up,” which asks donors to purchase needed food and items, such as canned tuna, chicken, vegetables, and spaghetti, rice, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, boxed cereal, and diapers, and volunteers from Lazarus House will, at agreed upon times, pick the food up from your home. If you have any questions, please let Amy or I know.

The mark of a truly holy community is how it responds to the needs of its members and the greater community. As we have done in the past, I have no doubt that we, by living out our religion’s cherished values, will together overcome even this unique challenge.

La’Bruit! To Your Health and to the Health of Your Family!
Rabbi Howard Mandell