In the Face of Pandemic: Mitzvot

Image: COVID-19 virus against the image of DNA. (Pete Linforth / Pixabay)

If you are looking for information about COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) then I recommend you look at the FAQ on the CDC website. I’m a rabbi, not a doctor, and I’m sticking to my area of expertise: how does Torah figure into this picture?

However big or little a deal COVID-19 turns out to be, Torah provides us with guidelines for dealing with the situation. There are opportunities for mitzvot all around us. A few of them:

Pikuach nefesh (Preserve life!) – One of the most pressing mitzvot, one that outweighs even the keeping of Shabbat, is the preservation of life. What does that mean, in this case? It means that each of us has a sacred duty to stay informed and to follow the practices that medical experts recommend for preventing the spread of the virus: handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if we are sick with a respiratory ailment.

For myself, I’m not shaking hands with anyone for the duration of this thing, and I’m not going to give or receive hugs. It may feel awkward at first but I don’t think the risk is worth it.

Veahavtem et ger (Love the stranger) – Xenophobia (fear of strangers) and racism are always wrong. People of Asian descent have been experiencing a rise in anti-Asian behavior since the outbreak of the virus. They are no more likely to be a source of infection than anyone else. It is important that we not fall into such behavior or tolerate it in our presence.

Lo telekh rakhil b’amekha (Do not run around telling tales to people) – Make sure that everything you repeat is from a reliable source, and cite your sources. Don’t spread gossip or unreliable information. Don’t do it on social media, don’t do it in the workplace. Don’t speculate (“I bet they are going to start rationing Tylenol!”) because that can be repeated as a “fact” by someone careless and cause panic.

Give tzedakah – As with any other misfortune that affects the whole of society, the poor will be hardest hit. Contribute to organizations that care for and feed the poor. Malnourishment and homelessness make people more susceptible to disease. Anything we can do to relieve the suffering of the poor will reward all of us.

Bal Taschit (Do not waste) – Do not run around in an N-95 mask if you are healthy, unless you are caring for individuals who are infected.

CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it.

CDC FAQ on COVID-19

Those are just a few mitzvot that occur to me. What about you? Are there mitzvot you think particularly apply to this situation? Please add them to the comments!