One of the great things about the United States of America is its basic belief in G-d. No matter how hard American society today tries to rid itself of adherence to religion, it simply cannot shake off its core belief in a Divine Creator.
Take a look in any US coin and you know that you will find “In G-d We Trust.” Less visible is the motto “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “Out of Many, One” – another way of stating, “In Unity There Is Strength.”
Rashi in this week’s parshah (VaYikra 26:8) explains the exponentially greater ability of Jews to overcome their enemy as the number of Israelite soldiers increases: “One cannot compare the few who uphold the Torah to the many who uphold the Torah.” In other words, the more the Jewish people are united, the disproportionately greater are their achievements.
Some time last week, it was brought to our attention that a certain prominent person in Kew Gardens Hills was holding minyanim in his backyard, despite all the health hazards that that this poses, plus all the government violations it involves. Rabbi Richard Weiss of the Young Israel of Hillcrest, along with a well-known community doctor, and I called this individual. The immediate response to Rabbi Weiss and me was, “The Vaad of Queens does not dictate policy for everyone in our community; let it just stick to certifying restaurants!” I let him know that this has nothing to do with the Vaad. It has everything to do with public health. In fact, the rabbi who alerted me to his violation is not a member of the Vaad.
The conversation that all three of us had with him proved to be a total waste of time.
But it brings home an important point. If we truly had a unified community, one that universally respects our Vaad and its associated rabbanim, we likely could have had a better outcome with COVID-19 in Queens.
Contrast our experience with that of Baltimore. Almost immediately following Purim, the local Vaad HaRabanim in that town declared that all yeshivos must close immediately. Sure enough, all yeshivos for boys and girls did indeed close. At that time, there was very little if any COVID-19 reported in the Orthodox community. But these rabbanim got it right. They foresaw the need to take proactive action to prevent the onset of the disease from entering Baltimore. They also issued a prohibition for anyone to receive guests from outside Baltimore, including for Pesach. The entire community obeyed, despite the hardship this posed. As a result, the number of COVID-19 tragedies in Baltimore to date can be counted on one hand, baruch Hashem.
Recently, the notoriously anti-Orthodox newspaper The Forward carried an article explaining why there were relatively few cases of the virus in the Los Angeles Orthodox community. There, too, the rabbis were united in the measures they took to clamp down on the virus, and for the most part their word was respected.
Our prominent person was right. Some people choose to view the Vaad of Queens as a kashrus agency only. Stick with pots and pans. For health issues, rely on some unnamed poseik elsewhere, quote an unnamed doctor whose position on this issue is unheard of in the medical profession. Thus, we had numerous shuls open long after they should have been closed. Thus, we had too many people not adhering to social distancing. Thus, we lost precious people. Thus, Hatzalah ambulance sirens were screeching day and night through Pesach and beyond.
So, let’s unite: Modern, chareidi, Sefardi, Ashkenazi. Regardless of whether one is a member of the Queens Vaad or not, respect the consensus of our rabbanim. Let’s follow Baltimore and Los Angeles. Let’s follow Rashi’s insight. Let’s be good Jews and good Americans. Let us follow what the Torah wants from us – not to fill a cultural need to practice what may be hazardous to us physically and politically, but to adhere to its dictates wherever that leads. Surely that allows us to declare with confidence, “In G-d We Trust!” Remember: “The life you save may be your own!”
The Soup Scoop
Last week, in my article “Cedars II,” I referred to Abba’s Shabbos chicken soup being made available free, including delivery, for those in need. If interested in ordering, please dial 718-261-9723 (ext. 3) and leave a message. The order will be passed to “Abba.”
To read more articles and access past issues, please visit www.queensjewishlink.com.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.