A Timeless Lesson for the Pandemic

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

The news media has been reporting for several weeks what seem like constant reports of rising rates of infection, governmental inability/refusal to devise an effective strategy to control the spread of the virus, increased economic hardship across large swaths of the population, congressional deadlock in enacting a further economic stimulus plan, anger among citizens, civil unrest, and even violent protests. At a time in human history when unity of purpose and action is needed most, citizens and their government are at odds. There is a highly acerbic tone to the discourse; one that is not only often disrespectful but strident, one that in some quarters conveys hatred.

This week Jews the world over will observe Tisha Baav, a national day of mourning over the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem in 587 BCE and 70 CE. A fundamental lesson of this sacred day is most appropriate for our time. The Talmud teaches that the first Temple was destroyed because the Jewish People violated the three cardinal sins: idol worship, promiscuity, and bloodshed. The second Temple, however, explains this Talmudic passage, was destroyed not because of a violation of a religious practice but rather because of sinat chinom, wanton hatred, among the Jewish People. The Talmud concludes, “This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three cardinal sins.”

In another passage the Talmud relates a troubling story of a Jew who hated another Jew by the name of Kamtza. This same man was friends with another gentleman by the name of Bar Kamtza. The Talmud tells of a large party which the man threw to which he invited many guests and rabbis. Lo and behold, and much to his chagrin, when he arrived at his party he found his enemy Kamtza had been invited by mistake and was sitting among the invited guests. The host, overcome by his hatred for Kamtza, refused to allow him to remain. In front of all the assembled guests he demanded that Kamtza leave immediately. He refused Kamtza’s pleas that he not be disgraced in such a cruel fashion, but his pleas were dismissed. Kamtza was banished from the party as the rabbis watched silently and without objection. This painful incident, explains the Talmud, was the cause for the Almighty’s destruction of the Temple.

This Tisha Baav I will not be able to attend services in my own synagogue. I will commemorate Tisha Baav at home by myself. Thus, during this year of the pandemic Tisha Baav will be very personal. Tisha Baav’s lessons should also be highly relevant this year for all of us.

We are living in a moment in time when all of mankind, literally, is confronted with a common enemy,  when people of all types need to unite, to help one another cope, to care for those in need, to protect each other from infection, to provide support to those in need of financial assistance, and to show an extra measure of compassion and understanding.  Tisha Baav during the pandemic, however, is coming at a time of increasing conflict and discord. Conflicts over masks, conflicts over pandemic restrictions, conflicts over economic stimulus programs, over politics, over discrimination, conflicts and more conflicts. Everywhere you turn, whether Chicago or Portland, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, sinat chinom, wanton hatred, reigns.

We all should know better. We should know that such discord brings destruction. We should know that unity brings redemption. We know better. We should act better, as well.

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

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