A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
I'm writing this in reaction to the fear that has been generated about Corona virus. Many of those to whom I've spoken are of two minds. I've heard and share respect for the necessity of being very careful in the face of a disease that is extremely contagious and whose effects are not yet well understood. I've also heard frustration expressed and criticism of the great amount of fearmongering. Into this crisis I'd like to bring the wideness of God's forgiveness.
One of the most powerful texts on forgiveness in the Torah is in this week's portion. Look at Exodus, chapters 33 and 34. After the Israelites had committed the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses shattered the tablets on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments. He was heartsick, perhaps thinking that if only he had trained the people better, if only he had warned them against the temptation of idolatry, they wouldn't have sinned. So Moses pleaded with God to forgive the people. God forgave, and Moses further made bold to ask God to let Moses see the divine glory. God refused, saying, "No human can see my face and live. But stand here. I will place my hand over your face and pass by you. Then I will take my hand away, and you will see where I've been."
As God passed before Moses God spoke the well-known words: "The Lord; the Lord, God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. Yet God may not wholly acquit, reckoning the crime of fathers with sons and sons of sons to the third and fourth generation." It's as if, instead of letting Moses see the divine face, God told Moses, "This is who I am. "
To paraphrase - there are consequences of wrongdoing, and as the sin of slavery has taught this country so well, those consequences ripple down through generations. Yet there is also, eternally, forgiveness. That truth is so simple, and soul-shaking. Forgiveness is part of God's creation. It's part of God's basic being. Therefore it's part of ours too.
There are fearful people who are bringing hardship onto themselves and others by insisting on draconian measures, and there are well-reasoned people, inspired by compassion, who are imposing strong precautions. We might be annoyed by either, or both. And each of us is going to be wary and suspicious of others, wondering if they are bringing disease into our lives. I'd like to offer all of them forgiveness, in the hope that my forgiveness will mitigate the mistrust and isolation that we're going to experience.
My last (for this page) thought is not about forgiveness, but about compassion. The majority of those who suffer in this epidemic will not be the people who contract the disease. It'll be those who are going to be laid off work without compensation, for whom being out of work is going to cause real hardship. When the crisis is over, maybe while it is still happening, may those who have extra resources share with those who don't.