As the weeks go on, our altruism will need to go well beyond merely not sickening others. by the Forward

Coronavirus is a test for the government. But it’s a test for us, too.

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Without a doubt, our government and our medical establishment are facing a critical test as the coronavirus pandemic widens. But they are not the only ones facing a critical test; we are, too: We human beings, we people of faith, we people of moral principle and ethical sensibility. The test we are facing is no less critical, and passing this test is no less urgent.

It’s very striking that the advice that our other health agencies have been urging us to follow is heavily tilted toward what we can do to protect others. Of course, measures like washing our hands will help to protect us too, but hand washing is equally about diminishing the possibility of our spreading the virus to someone else, God forbid.

The imperative to protect others is the reason we are being told to cough into our elbows and to avoid going into public places if we are feeling sick. Particularly interesting was the information that wearing a mask in public places does little to protect the person wearing the mask; the purpose is to protect others who are around that person.

Opinion | Coronavirus is a test for the government. But it’s a test for us, too.

In this sense, the mask is a metaphor for how we — our families, our communities, our world — can best handle and emerge from this crisis: through caring about and caring for one another. Of course, we will protect ourselves as well. But likely the most impactful thing we will do as we navigate this anxious chapter is to be constantly mindful of protecting others.

As the weeks go on, our altruism will need to go well beyond merely not making others sick. If there are food shortages in stores, we will need to check in on neighbors and, in particular, on the elderly and on those who live alone. If people need to be quarantined, we will have to inquire whether an in-home aid that a friend or neighbor depends upon is perhaps unable to come.

If God forbid a major coronavirus breakout occurs among the city’s homeless, there is no doubt that those of us with relevant medical expertise will be called upon to give our time and efforts.

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One of the brand new terms that has entered our daily conversation is “social distancing.” It is shorthand, as we know very well, for the practical physical precautions that we all must take in order to protect ourselves and others. But I’d humbly suggest that we use the term itself sparingly, if at all. Language is a powerful shaper of thinking. And the very last thing we need right now, is a mindset of mutual distancing.

We actually need to be thinking in the exact opposite way: Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.

Opinion | Coronavirus is a test for the government. But it’s a test for us, too.

It is obvious that “distancing,” if misplaced or misunderstood, will take its toll not only upon our community’s strength and resiliency, but upon the very integrity and meaning of our spiritual commitment. And who knows if it was for this time that we have committed ourselves to walk in God’s ways.

The way that we will protect and save ourselves is through protecting and saving others, as is always true.

When we next find ourselves in prayer, let’s pause, and silently stand before our God who knows our needs even before we articulate them and who has called upon us to be the fingers of His outstretched hand.

Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Coronavirus is a test for the government. But it’s a test for us, too.

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Coronavirus is a test for the government. But it’s a test for us, too.

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