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Preservation of Human Life

I haven’t had a moment yet to really process all that has happened in our world. At first, each fragment of energy was dedicated to my work; engaging and supporting our community at B’nai Jeshurun. During those first moments, none of us really knew anything at all. It was during this period of the vast unknown that decisions had to be made. One of the most crucial and intricate decisions was that pertaining to our much anticipated Purim Spiel, which our kids and staff worked tirelessly to put together. Reflecting back, I remember the flurry of contradictory information mixed with the desire for our children to have their moment in the spotlight. I am both honored and proud that my work deems me responsible for the care of other people’s lives. With my service in mind, I cannot help but wonder if a program I held impacted the life or wellbeing of someone else.

The preservation of life takes precedence over all other commandments in Judaism. As the curtains opened for the Purim Spiel, I got the call I knew BJ would receive sooner than later. A participant had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. My heart sank. Did I make the wrong call? I know I did my due diligence; I consulted with colleagues and medical professionals, considered each angle I possibly could. 

The days continued in strange new ways for me. On Sunday, March 15, my family met my parents on Long Island, six feet apart, aching to be closer. They kindly handed over their car, as my priority shifted from work to getting my family out of New York City. I cried as I parted ways with my parents, unable to embrace, fearful of how long it would be until our next visit. I comforted myself with the words, preservation of human life comes before all other mitzvot, Pikuah Nefesh. 

I thought of my wife and three children, Pikuah Nefesh. One of my children had her own respiratory struggles, Pikuah Nefesh. I knew we needed to leave New York City. The facts were conflicting; the Department of Education was still open, but I felt the anxiety ripple through my body. Looking back on March 15, working with the best information we had, preserving life was the driving force in all decision making. When did you have to make this decision for your family? Did you second guess yourself? How do you feel about it now?

We have come to another moment in our lives where Torah shares deep insights into our own lives. This week, in our double parashah, Tazri’a-Metzora, we read about the purification process for the Metzora, the person afflicted with tzara’at. In ancient times, the priests served as doctors, deliberating over who should be isolated and who should remain in the community. Today we have science and brave medical professionals providing that advice. Yet, we have learned, through our current and extraordinary circumstances, that the question isn’t who should stay in the community and who should be isolated. If we all isolate, we all survive. We have learned as an entire globe that we are obligated to stay home to fulfill the mitzvah of Pekuah Nefesh. May you wash your hands diligently, may you wear your masks with pride, and may our social distancing help to preserve life, Pikuah Nefesh.