Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
A disturbing phenomenon: during this time of corona, there has been a sharp increase in the number of isolated individuals who pass away in their homes without anyone knowing about it. Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 70 such cases. Volunteers from Zaka, the disaster victim rescue organization, are alerted by neighbors several days after these deaths occur. Upon entering the home of the deceased, the volunteers speak about a feeling of having stepped into a realm of solitude. It’s a place where no one has knocked on the door now and then to ask “How are you?” and no one has made a phone call to check in or say “Shabbat shalom.” It’s as if no one knew that anyone was living here or that anyone had died.
On Shabbat we read parashat Shoftim about a situation where a human corpse is discovered and it’s not clear who is responsible for this death. The elders of the closest city need to go to a river, sacrifice a heifer, wash their hands and declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see”.
How are we to understand these words? Of course, no one thinks that the elders of the city murdered this person. Yet despite this, there is a suspicion that in their city no one looked after this person properly, and so this is in fact the elders’ responsibility and they must ask: Did we build a city in which no one paid attention to this person who was ultimately neglected by all? Are we indirectly responsible for this tragedy?
The sacrificial ceremony they performed is known as Egla Arufa (axed heifer) and it does not exist today, but its message still reverberates: no one should be invisible, no one should live and die alone. We need to keep our eyes constantly open, especially during this time of corona. The social distancing that the coronavirus requires does not need to become social alienation between one person and another. Just as there are people who need food, there are people who need to be noticed – now more than ever.