The Lesson of COVID-19

Image: The world pictured as a giant coronavirus. By Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

COVID-19 is teaching us a lesson: every one of us is interconnected. Within a species, we are intimately connected: we have the same vulnerabilities and we breathe the same air. We are not separate beings, not really, and what happens to one has a potential effect on everyone else.

I got a powerful lesson about this last Sunday morning. I’ve spent my week recovering from a fall on my patio last Sunday about noon. I tripped and fell, unable to keep my forehead from hitting the concrete. I’m on blood thinners, so this is potentially very serious: it could start a hemorrhage inside my skull and kill me.

I was able to get up unassisted, and I never lost consciousness: good signs both. Still, I had instructions from my doctor to go to the emergency room if I hit my head. Linda and I immediately went for help. I could tell that the hospital triage folk deemed it serious; they swept me into a treatment room and got an IV started immediately. A doctor came in quickly to look me over, order tests and a CAT scan.

As it turned out, I was lucky: no brain bleed. I have a nasty black eye, a bruised nose, and assorted scrapes, but I am alive.

I was even luckier to be living in Alameda County, California, where we have a relatively low COVID-19 transmission rate. I needed an emergency room and skilled docs and nurses and I got them. I needed a CAT scan, and I needed to sit for 12 hours so they could watch me to see if I was going to have a problem.

In Alaska and in Idaho, I’d have had a very different Sunday afternoon. There entire hospitals are overwhelmed and they cannot do much for aging ladies who trip over their own feet, even if they might die.

COVID-19 is teaching us a lesson: every creature on earth is interconnected. Within our species of homo sapiens, we have the same vulnerabilities, we breathe the same air, we need the same resources. We may like to talk about being “free” but a virus knows and cares nothing about “freedom.” The virus crossed over from the animal kingdom, and it is chewing its way through humanity as I type this. We have the means to slow it down — vaccination — and to some of us, getting vaccinated seems like the smart thing to do.

For other people, it is a harder decision. They’ve heard rumors about reactions to the shots. They’ve heard misinformation from the Internet and from sources they thought reliable. For some people, it’s about not wanting to be told what to do by a bunch of people they experience as smug and annoying.

I can understand all that. But I also understand that in Alaska and Idaho they are unable to take care of people with heart attacks and possible brain bleeds, because they have had to move to “crisis standards of care” also known as rationed care. If one individual chooses not to get vaccinated, other people may lose their chances at life.

The ER was pretty busy Sunday. There was a person with chest pains, and another who had had a gnarly commercial kitchen accident. There were others I don’t know anything about, they just came and went during my 12 hour vigil. Care was available for us. That was because outside the hospital (and inside it too!) people are wearing masks, 77% of residents are fully vaccinated and 90.4% of residents have had at least one vaccination.

I am grateful that my fellow Alameda County residents are looking out for me. I’ll do my best to look out for them. When we thought COVID was “over” in July, and we ditched our masks, it came roaring back at us. Luckily for us, the mask mandates and high vax rate has brought all that back under control. Because it is under control, there was room for me in the ER.

A portion of the Book of Leviticus is known to scholars as “The Holiness Code.” A chunk of it addresses this interconnection of people, our responsibilities to take care of one another. I think it’s worth pondering in this context:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Adonai your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.

You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am Adonai.

You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.

You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am Adonai.

You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.

Do not go about as a talebearer among others; deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am Adonai.

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt because of them.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am Adonai.

Leviticus 19: 8-19.

We Jews are commanded to pay attention to our connections with others. We are commanded to take the needs of strangers seriously, to treat the rich and poor equally, to love our fellow as ourselves. There’s nothing there about “the deserving poor” or the “innocent victim” or any other such loophole that will allow us to exclude someone. There’s nothing about an exemption for wishing evil on people with whom we disagree. Just “love your fellow as yourself.”

We are all part of the web of connection: the healthy and the sick, the wealthy and the poor, the clever and the simple, heck, even Democrats and Republicans. Like it or not, we’re in this together.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

15 thoughts on “The Lesson of COVID-19”

  1. You bet! Rugged individualism is grossly toxic.

    I hope you are recovering successfully from your fall.

  2. Good to hear you’re OK!

    I’m with you on this ‘we’re all one’ paradigm, but some 30% or more of Americans are not. Hard to know what to do at times. I try to take the High Road, but when an active shooter comes barging in or someone tries to run me over as I walk down the sidewalk, I can’t exactly invite him in for tea and cookies.

    We seem to be running two parallel paradigms. Very difficult!

    1. Thank you for sharing your insights Rabbi Ruth, seems very straightforward and acceptable to anyone giving it some thought -hopefully more people will come to this conclusion and put others before themselves. We share your gratitude for those already watching out for neighbors and family. And especially grateful for the dedicated health care team.
      Hope that you continue to do well and are fully recovered.

    2. Very, very difficult. Sometimes all I know to do is to keep doing the mitzvot for which I am responsible and trust that somehow, something or someone will break through the fog.

      1. We need to be careful about that approach, though. Over emphasis on ritual mitzvot is one important reason why the charedi communities are overrun with child sexual abuse: They see it, don’t know what to do about it, so just immerse themselves even harder in ritual mitzvot. Engagement in ritual mitzvot won’t stop serious social ills.

        HaShem set this world running, but now relies upon us to do the work. So our tradition teaches that we “pray as though everything depends upon HaShem, while acting as though everything depends upon us.”

        We must not desist in doing the work.

        1. That’s a good point. I’m speaking from a Reform viewpoint, where the focus is more often on so-called “ethical mitzvot,” meaning those mitzvot that have to do with our impacts on the lives of others: social justice work, meeting the needs of the suffering, etc.

          1. The Orthodox are also very heavy in performing the social/ethical mitzvot. But they use ritual mitzvot as a meditative device, and so when distressed tend to go that direction.

  3. Wow, Rabbi, what an emphatic way to launch yourself into Sukkot!

    I definitely appreciate your layout of the good care you were privy to, but I’m still somewhat in shock re: the tumble itself. So I’ll be drifting back later to ponder some of the lessons you derived. My gosh!

  4. OK, Rabbi, I’m back now. 1st, as you begin class tomorrow, you can always just echo my Dad: “So, how’d the other guy look?!”

    2d, I treasure your sentences: “We Jews are commanded to pay attention to our connections with others.… There’s nothing there about “the deserving poor” or the “innocent victim” or any other such loophole that will allow us to exclude someone.… . Just “love your fellow as yourself.”

    Connections; no exemptions. OK, got it! Thanks!

  5. Happy to read you were able to get the proper treatment. He in the province of Alberta, Canada we are one step closer to a total lockdown. The military medics have arrived to give the first responders a small break. Summer was declared open on July 1 with all regulations dropped. Now I am read we are breaking new record number of cases with AntiVaxx parties sending the hospitals into a frenzy. “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart…”

    1. I have all kinds of trouble with “kinsfolk,” refusing vaccines, such as the Chicago Police Department Union and teacher’s unions with reservations about the vaccine. Why? They are being selfish and I’ve had it with the harm they are causing.

      1. Yes, the vaccine refusers are so frustrating. I’m trying to get a CT scan for an acute issue, but my local hospital cannot schedule me because the emergency room and inpatient units are overrun with unvaccinated covid patients.

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