This week we read Parashat Parah, the reading about how a person becomes pure after coming into contact with a dead body. A red heifer is slaughtered, burnt, and the ashes are placed in a bowl of spring water before being sprinkled over the impure person. There are many famous questions about this ritual, but one of the most well known is why do the people involved in purifying someone themselves become impure (albeit with a far lower level impurity)? The answer is that it is only the readiness to sacrifice for another that allows us to help them, to purify them. That sense of being there for another is a crucial element of our religious identity, and we cannot do without it.
It's a scary time now, both in Australia and around the world. As we continue to watch the spread of a disease we do not understand, people are increasingly concerned, as they should be. It has become necessary to engage in specific strategies of social distancing. People who are unwell stay at home. Many people who are vulnerable stay home. Overall, we face a time of withdrawal which is simply unheard of for most of us. The community feels weaker, much more attenuated, when we can't even see all the people that we are used to seeing.
At such a time, it is crucially important to maintain our connections to each other in whatever way we can. Let every person that you didn't hug or shake hands with be a person to whom you said an extra kind word. Let every person who you did not visit be a person you called and told how much you care for them and miss them. If you disagree with someone, especially about the right response to Coronavirus, don't fight. Yes, it's important, but maintaining our sense of togetherness and social cohesion is even more so. And above all, let's do whatever we can to help each other. Let's make this something which strengthens our community instead of breaking it apart.