“And you shall not profane My holy Name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel” Leviticus 22:32


A large group of passengers travelling by ship were astonished to discover a fellow traveller boring a hole at the bottom of the vessel.To the passengers’ passionate expostulations, the culprit retorted, “But I am only drilling beneath my own seat.” Shocked, the group responded, “Yes, but when the seawater floods into the ship we shall all be drowned with you.”

This midrash carries a stark message: a single Jew’s sins can cataclysmically affect the entire Jewish nation. Historical experience has borne this out. No matter how significant a contribution Jews may have made to their host countries, no matter how law-abiding they were, a single Jew could earn his entire community the opprobrium and wrath of their host nations.

Often this amounted to a mere pretext. The understandable actions of Herschel Grynszpan were used as a ploy to launch the murderous Kristallnacht pogrom. Charles Dickens completely ignored the many thousands of lawabiding Jews with unquestionable loyalty to Great Britain when he crafted his monstrous fictional Jew, Fagin, and instead modelled him on several estranged gangsters.

However, as this week’s portion indicates, this prejudice on the part of Jew-baiters in no way absolves us from our responsibility to avoid any action that may tarnish the reputation of the Jewish nation as a whole.

This is particularly true at this precarious time for humankind. We have a supreme religious duty to abide by all regulations that aim to curtail the unprecedented spread of this most insidious disease. The halachic dictum chamira akanta me’issura means that matters involving severe health risks are deemed more stringent than regular prohibitions.

Followers of our religion, adherents of a faith that gave the world the command “Thou shalt not kill” and propagated the notion that saving a single life is analogous to saving the entire world, must be scrupulous to avoid any spectacle or deed indicating that Jews disregard the urgent measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

On the contrary, through our actions we must amplify the sanctification of God’s Name engendered by thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters and their non-Jewish colleagues in the NHS and beyond, as they courageously battle the most pernicious threat humanity has faced in modern times.

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