By Rabbi Neil Sandler
It strikes me as a bit ironic. Amidst all of the constraints on us now – we can't congregate in a group, we can't get too close to the person next to us, we can't travel too far from home – the array of choices we have before us is still considerable… and terribly important.
Those choices largely boil down to responding to this question – What's the most important thing I can do now?
How would you answer that question? Is the most important thing protecting yourself, as much as possible, from becoming infected with the Coronavirus? Is it protecting your closest loved ones? Is it keeping your spirits up? Getting enough sleep and protecting your immune system? Eating in a healthy manner, especially because you are spending much more time at home? What is the most important thing you can do now?
Bari Weiss, opinion staff writer and editor at the New York Times and the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, responded to that question in a recent American Jewish University webinar with this pithy sentiment, "Choose life." Ms. Weiss was quoting from the Torah (Deuteronomy 30:19). In two simple words, she captured what is probably the best response we can now offer to the question, "What's the most important thing I can do now?"
Bari Weiss' response in which she shared one of the most significant life-directing statements the Torah offers is a sentiment that should inform our lives now. We are in a moment in which we may feel dislocated from our normal lives, when all around us seems surreal. "Choose life" must be our guidepost, directing most, if not all, of our choices today.
"Choose life" – Take care of yourself, perhaps even better than you usually do. Eat right. Exercise as best and regularly as you can. "Choose life" – Make intelligent decisions to remain physically separated from most people before government officials offer "stay at home" declarations. "Choose life" – Be kind to those with whom you still share space and loving relationships. Stress abounds. Don't let it get the better of you. If that stress leads you to snap at a loved one, stop. Take a deep breath. Apologize and change your demeanor. "Choose life" – Support your loved ones in making intelligent decisions now. "Choose life" – Pay attention to your entire well-being, especially to your own mental health. If you are not feeling "like you," seek the support of a helping professional.
What's the most important thing I can do now? "Choose life… that you and your offspring may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).