Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute
Can we emerge from the pandemic to a “We” culture?
“What will be the shape of a post-Covid-19 world? That will be the defining question of the year ahead.”
This is the question Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks in the Epilogue of his latest book, “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.” His questions continue: “Will we use this unparalleled moment to reevaluate our priorities, or will we strive to get back as quickly as possible to business as usual? Will we have changed or merely endured? Will the pandemic turn out to have been a transformation of history or merely an interruption of it?”
The book was released in the United States shortly before his untimely death in November of 2020. In the preface he wrote of his hope that “in the context of a post-pandemic world, the book might serve as a guide to how, after a long period of isolation, we might think about rebuilding our lives together, using the insights and energies this time has evoked.”
Morality and religion are closely connected in virtually every religious tradition, and for Sacks his Jewish faith is made clear as he summarized in the following paragraph:
“Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessing with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our color or culture, class or creed.”
He notes that the coronavirus pandemic has challenged our exercise of self-restraint for the safety of others as our society has become more “I” centered. “We have had,” Sacks writes, “for some time now …too much pursuit of self, too little commitment to the common good.”
In recent times we have experienced polarization in our communities and unfortunately religion has been a component. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism incidents have increased. Christian communities have been divided over social and political issues. As we come out of extended isolation during the COVID shutdown and restrictions have been relaxed, let us also seek to renew personal relationships in ways that open us up to better understanding of each other. Following our time of coming together physically for the July Fourth celebrations, let us also come together across religious and political divisions for a renewed understanding of our shared humanity.
In the closing epilogue of the book, Rabbi Sacks sets forth five aspects of his hope “that we emerge from this long dark night with an enhanced sense of ‘We.’”
Rarely has all of humanity faced the same challenges, dangers, and fears at the same time, and Sacks writes, “I hope we will see a stronger sense of human solidarity.”
A tiny virus has threatened the whole of humanity despite our affluence and power, so “I hope we will have a keener sense of human vulnerability.”
Noting that countries with high-trust cultures and faith in government to be honest fared best in their response, Sacks says, “I hope we strengthen our sense of social responsibility.”
Responding to the many who during lockdown and isolation reached out to others in need, Sacks continues, “I hope that we will retain the spirit of kindness and neighborliness.”
Finally, “I hope we will emerge from this time of distance and isolation with an enhanced sense of what most we have missed — the ‘We’ that happens whenever two or more people come together face-to-face and soul touches soul.”
Let us not let this crisis go to waste, but let it be the opportunity to recover a basic morality that has been taught throughout our religious history and is needed again at this time.