Lma’an achay v’reiyei
I speak out of concern for the welfare of every individual. The medical situation throughout the world is very serious, and calls for a public statement. The first and foremost requirement is to have extreme care in our actions, being suitably cautious in everything we do. There is no place for complacency and ignoring government warnings. The government is trying to protect us and not trying to make difficulties. There is no excuse for disregarding or flouting the rules. They are legislating for our good health and our benefit.
On Erev Shabbos, we published a letter from Rebbi Akiva Eiger, zt”l, that he wrote during an outbreak of the plague. He strongly endorsed the quarantine measures introduced by the government, and he encouraged Yidden to write to the government that they appreciated the moves to limit the plague. Later, he received a letter of thanks from the king.
The virus can easily be passed through physical contact. Infected hands can easily pass the germs into the mouth. Small children are particularly liable to pass on infection. Although young children may not suffer serious illness, they can pass on the virus to old people and others who are at risk. Grandparents holding their little grandchildren can easily become infected.
We follow the rule that chamira sakanta me’isura, a possible danger to life, is more stringent than a Torah injunction. If there is a possibility that someone may chas v’shalom die, we must be more careful than we would be for a Torah prohibition. The Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah (116) rules explicitly that one must be extremely careful not to do anything that could bring a person into danger. Even though some doctors are not concerned about becoming infected, we should follow the opinion of the vast majority who say that it could be chas v’shalom dangerous for vulnerable people.
Even people over 60 who may not be in immediate danger, still may need a respirator to help them breath. In Belgium, at present there are only 150 respirators, including those that are needed for regular operations. Therefore, people who are more susceptible to infections must be much more careful to be isolated.
In this connection, the Shulchan Aruch paskens that in this situation a man has no obligation to be mispallel with a minyan. If someone does join a private minyan, he must be extra careful to avoid close contact with others and with young children who can easily pass on the infection. Only a minimum of 10 or 12 men should be present. Where possible, the minyan should be the same people each day. Obviously, if someone does not feel well, he should not attend a minyan. The gathering should disperse immediately after the end of davening and not sit and chat. Shul and associated buildings will remain closed.
If the chadarim and Talmud Torah are asked to close, where possible some learning should continue, as ein haolam miskayem ela bishvil hevel pihem shel tinokos shel beis raban. Rebbeim should try to teach privately the talmidim in small groups for some time during the day.
It is essential that we maintain a calm and tranquil atmosphere in the home, especially with the approach of Yom Tov. Rebbi Akiva Eiger writes that removing sadness and depression strengthens resistance to disease.
We need the zechus of learning Torah as the greatest protection for Klal Yisrael. If the emergency continues until Pesach, families should avoid stress and strain trying to undertake extra stringencies and chumros. There will be b’siyatta diShmaya sufficient supply of food to enjoy Yom Tov.
Other advice mentioned by Rebbi Akiva Eiger is to recite Pitum Haketores aloud together with a minyan each day, and Kapitel 91 after davening. Tefillos have a great strength to protect Klal Yisrael. Similarly, giving extra tzedakah is a protection as it says, ‘Tzedakah tatzil mimaves.’ Shemiras halashon is also a valuable zechus for length of days. The main thing is that everyone should be able to celebrate Yom Tov in a spirit of peace and tranquillity in good health.