I live in California. The governor just ordered a shelter in place because of the coronavirus. What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about what to do about sick people in society?
While this is not the right venue for us to answer your question comprehensively, we thought that you and others might find this Biblical thought on illness interesting and perhaps useful
A great deal of the book of Leviticus speaks of illnesses that are often poorly translated into English as leprosy or some other contagion. The repair for these problems involves removing oneself from the camp and being isolated. Many of us can relate more to those verses today than we could just a few weeks ago.
These illnesses were not of a physical, but of a spiritual variety. In the days where the relationship between God and His people was on a heightened level, spiritual flaws drew quick physical responses.
The study of psychosomatic disorders which is when mental or spiritual distress presents as a physical phenomenon on the body is relatively recent but it helps us understand the close bond between our spiritual and our physical beings. The fascinating efficaciousness of placebos again reinforces how closely tied are our bodies and our souls.
We no longer benefit from that same level of closeness and interaction between the physical and spiritual worlds. Yet, we are nonetheless very aware of holistic medicine which hints at how every part of the body impacts every other part. Today, we (correctly) would never suggest that individual A is ill because of personal sins or individual B is healthy because he is righteous. Yet we do understand that what and how we think does have an effect on our physical well-being. Optimism and happiness undoubtedly contribute to physical health as well as to speedy recovery. The Biblical worldview extension of that is that what and how we think and behave affects the health of the world around us as well.
Taking care of the ill and needy is a priority in a Biblical world. So is behaving in ways that protect and improve life for those among whom you live. It is unacceptable to be absorbed only in one’s own life. One of the effects of isolation as described in Leviticus was a renewed appreciation for being part of a community, with all the responsibilities and demands that go along with that privilege. We can hope that today’s virus is reminding us all how fortunate we are to live in a world where we are not alone.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin