Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.
All through 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the logo of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the media daily. Do you remember it? It’s a snake wrapped around a staff. You may be surprised to learn it actually comes from a biblical story.
We read in the book of Numbers, Chapter 21 that a plague of snakes attacks the people of Israel in the desert, leading God to have Moses make a snake out of bronze, instructing: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” This tale from the Torah is the source of the best-known symbol of our pandemic times.
Like Moses making the bronze snake, we Jews are leaders when we take action.
One of the most important things I learned as a Kaplan Leadership Initiative Fellow, which I participated in through JDC’s Leatid program in Latin America, is the idea that, like Moses making the bronze snake, we Jews are leaders when we take action. It’s not about theory but about practice. In Hebrew, we might call it “tachles” — a word that suggests purpose and speaks to a given thing’s true essence.
We see this very clearly in this week’s Torah portion of Vayera, when Abraham sits in the doorway of his tent, on what the biblical commentators tell us was three days after his brit mila (circumcision) at the age of 99. Three “people” come to visit our biblical forefather as he heals, fulfilling the obligation of bikur cholim, the Jewish value of visiting the sick.
But how can we keep this mitzvah (commandment) today, when it’s so difficult for us to visit each other, when to even enter a hospital is difficult and dangerous.
We’re not off the hook. Instead, we need to be creative, and we need to think outside the box. While it’s not the same, we can text and call the people who are sick to perform this great mitzvah. We can ask them, “How was your day? What do you need? Can I help in some way?”
I propose and invite you in honor of this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, to take action — call three people and wish them a refuah shleimah, our people’s blessing of healing.
You can be a blessing. You can be tachles in practice.
Rabbi Ariel Kleiner is an alumnus of the DIRECTORES Kaplan Fellows@Leatid leadership initiative and lives in São Paulo, Brazil, with his wife Renata and two sons.