Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Deep Breathing


Operation Inspiration

Someone made the rather tongue-in-cheek remark that the problems of 2020, from Coronavirus and face masks to George Floyd and rioting, could all boil down to three words: “I can’t breathe!”

Now before you start protesting in response to what I’ve written, let me assure you I am not intending to minimize anyone’s pain in any way, shape or form. What happened is that this person intended it as a joke, pointing out the irony, but after I laughed about it (it’s ok to laugh about difficult situations, but that’s another article entirely,) I actually reflected on it.

It does seem that overnight, when a man was killed in Minneapolis, much of the United States “forgot” about COVID-19 and social distancing went out the window. The face masks helped to obscure looters’ faces and people got out of breath from carrying the stolen goods.

But let’s leave that behind and focus on the concept of their similarity. The words, “I can’t breathe” apply to both the viral disease which ravaged the entire world and the latent national disease of racism and hatred of others which erupted with shocking force shortly thereafter.

What if these two events were intended to convey the same message? What is George Floyd’s death and its aftermath of rage was an underlining of the Corona pandemic by Hashem Yisbarach? Everything in this world happens for Klal Yisrael, with a message and lesson. So, what is the lesson now?

It reminded me of a posuk in Tehillim. In fact, it’s the last posuk in Tehillim. “Kol Haneshama T’hallel Kah, Hallelukah, let all souls praise Hashem.” It can also be translated, “all who breathe, praise Hashem.” Chazal say we are to praise Hashem for every breath we take. Similarly, I believe we should praise Hashem as well for every soul on earth. That is to say, every person in the world has the right to breathe air by virtue of the fact that Hashem has created them.

The messages I take from this are: 1. Understand that Hashem is everything. We have no power or ability of our own. We’re not just living on borrowed time, but we are existing with loaned bodies and health and everything else that we have. We are kept alive every instant by Hashem’s will that we be alive. 2. We need to appreciate the others around us. We must recognize that they, too, have a purpose on this planet and we should be in awe of that purpose. We should give them respect and understand that our blood is no redder than theirs. We are all breathing the air Hashem put here and we are all created in Hashem’s image.

So, what kind of world would we be living in if we thought about others before ourselves? Well, for one thing, at the present time, I think we’d all be wearing masks. We may have already had the virus (I didn’t) or we’re not worried about getting it (many still are). However, if there’s a chance that we could have gotten infected or reinfected, we would ensure that we were wearing masks so we didn’t Chas V’Shalom negatively impact someone else. Even if some argue that the science is unproven, we wouldn’t want to take the chance of hurting someone else.

If we valued others as creations of G-d, we would not wish to harm anyone, let alone because of something beyond their control such as race or color. We would recognize that people are to be judged by their actions and think twice before calling people out for something. Even if the person is a Jew who is not living up to our standards, we would be cautious and not want to hurt them, knowing that we may not see the whole picture or know the whole story.

Rioting and looting would not take place. On the contrary, people would be very careful not to cause harm to others no matter how hurt or upset they felt. They certainly would not take the opportunity to steal from anyone because they would understand how the other person would feel. We wouldn’t make business deals that are harmful to either side, or take advantage of someone’s inexperience. We wouldn’t try to take clients away from others if the work is being done satisfactorily.

It would be a different world.

I’ll end with a story. At a corporate team-building event, the 50 participants were given balloons and asked to blow them up, tie them, and write their names on them. Then the balloons were placed in an empty meeting room next door.

The team leader asked everyone to come into that room. “You have five minutes,” he said, “to locate your own balloon and return to your seat.” Pandemonium ensued. People ran around picking up balloons looking for their name. They jostled and pushed, and at the end of the five minutes, there were a lot of frustrated people without their balloons.

The leader then said, “Now – Everyone pick up a balloon and give it to the person whose name is on it.” Within moments, everyone was handed their balloon and they returned to their seats with a valuable lesson. When you only look out for yourself, the world is not a kind place and you usually come up empty. When you look out for others, though, everyone benefits and succeeds. Now wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?

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