In last week’s parshah, we learned, “When you build a new home you are to make a fence for your roof; and do not place blood liability in your house for someone who should fall may fall from it.” Rashi explains: “He deserves to fall, but still let his death not come through you, as benefit is brought about through the meritorious and injury through the guilty.”
Certainly, no one intends to have someone fall off the roof of their home. Yet, when a person who deserves to fall dies due to our failure to take the required safety precautions, we are held accountable. The fact that the person deserved, and that Hashem wanted him to fall, does not absolve us of our responsibility.
This is a lesson we should take to heart as we near the Yomim Noraim of the COVID-19 era.
We know much more about COVID-19 now than we did when the pandemic started. The disease spreads when coronavirus microbes are exhaled by someone who is infected - even if they do not have any symptoms - and are inhaled by someone else. The purpose of masks is not only to prevent us from getting the virus but perhaps, even more importantly, to prevent spreading it to others. The virus can be spread by people who are asymptomatic. The mask is intended to trap the microbes from entering the air and potentially infecting others.
None of us want to make others become ill or even die, but that is exactly what we risk doing when we refuse to wear a mask or follow social distancing regulations.
COVID-19 is usually spread by clusters. A single infected person, through sneezing, singing, or shouting, can send the potentially deadly microbes into the air, infecting many people in the room who can in turn infect other people that they come into contact with.
Public health officials have stated that if everyone would wear a mask we could reduce the number of COVID-19 cases by 90% and end the pandemic in a very short time.
Our services during the Yomim Noraim have the potential to chas veshalom become super-spreader events where large numbers of people gathering in a single place can cause the virus to spread exponentially. We have the ability to prevent this from happening.
Of course, we believe that Hashem is the One who determines whether or not someone will get COVID-19. But what last week’s parshah teaches us is that when we fail to take the necessary precautions we are to blame.
In just a few weeks, we will enter our shuls to pray for a year of life and good health. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we were to behave in a way that risks spreading illness and even death?
The Torah teaches us: “Be extremely cautious for your lives.” The preservation of life is so important that pikuach nefesh allows us to violate Shabbat. COVID-19 is a clear-cut case a pikuach nefesh. We certainly should endure the inconvenience and discomfort of wearing a mask in order to protect the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors in our shuls and throughout the community.
By Manny Behar