Religious Life

Deadly Disease – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – February 7, 2020

Shalom Chaverim,

Over the past few weeks, we have watched with growing concern as the coronavirus spreads from China around the world. We hope that doctors and the health care system respond quickly and effectively to stem the spread of this deadly virus.

As I look out, I fear there is another disease that is spreading and infecting our nation. It’s a disease that manifests in different ways: a rash of lies, corruption, deception, selfishness, arrogance.

To combat this, we don’t need a CDC, a Center for Disease Control but a moral center that calls upon us to look beyond narrow self-interest, to commit to the highest legal and ethical standards, to pursue justice, to strive for righteousness, to act with humility. That is because the moral condition of society is fundamental to the health and success of the nation. President James Madison said as much, warning “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.”

When the Hebrew Bible wants to depict a society teetering on the brink of moral collapse, it describes such a society as one “where everyone does that which is right in his eyes.” That is, a world in which there is no longer a common understanding of right and wrong, where there are no core moral values. It is a world in which each person looks out for themselves. It is a world of moral relativism where it’s not up to anyone else to say what is right or wrong.

In contrast, the Torah charges us saying, “Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord that it may go well with you and that you may possess the good land God has promised you” (Deut. 6:18). That is to say, our ability to inherit and dwell on the land depends on our commitment to living an upright life. Notice, the Torah says, “do what is right and good.” It must not just be good in your eyes; it might be right in God’s eyes. It must not just be right in your eyes; it must be good in God’s eyes.

In his book, Why be Good: Seeking our Best Selves in a Challenging World, author on Jewish ethics, Prof. Byron Sherwin wrote, “The apparent unraveling of moral character, especially among our leaders, is a vital concern of most Americans. And well it should be. Without core moral values, the very continuity of a culture is imperiled… Indeed, if a foreign power had tried to impose upon us the moral quagmire in which we now seem to find ourselves, Congress might very well have declared a state of national emergency or even war. What is clear, however, is that we are in a state of moral emergency, and we have to do something about it- each of us, and now.”

May we be restored to health- physical and ethical- speedily in our days.

Rabbi Alexander Davis