Purim’s Jewish Response to Coronavirus

Along with friends and family, I am concerned about the spread of the potentially deadly Coronavirus. I don’t recall a time when Purim parties were canceled, and elbow bumps replaced handshaking.

Our sages taught (Berachot 32b) that we are obligated to protect our health as it says, “take care and guard your life (nefesh)” (Deuteronomy 4:9). We must take proactive steps to stop the spread of this disease, including cleaning our hands often and covering our coughs and sneezes.

In addition to medical advice, our sages recommend spiritual protective measures.

In this week’s Torah portion Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35), the children of Israel are commanded to contribute half a silver shekel toward for the upkeep and maintenance of the Temple. Counting the half coins, rather than individuals, also served as a census of the number of Jews in a manner that would avert a plague.

It is significant that in Exodus 30:13 the Hebrew word (מחצית - Machatzit) is used to describe the “half” shekel. Our sages point out that the middle letter (צ) represents charity (צדקה - tzedakah). The letters immediately next to the (צ - tzadik) are the letters (חי - chai) which mean life, and the letters at the far extremes spell (מת - meit) which is the Hebrew word for death.

The Hebrew letters of the word (מחצית - Machatzit) allude to the teaching that “those who give charity are close to life and far from death” which was explicitly stated by King Solomon when he proclaimed, “charity saves from death” (Proverbs 10.2).

Every day is an excellent time to contribute to charity. However, Purim, celebrated this year on Tuesday, March 10th., is an auspicious time to give charitable “gifts to the poor” (Esther (9:22). There is also a custom to give three half dollars to commemorate the “half shekel” and its special message.

Our sages say Moshe found it difficult to understand how individuals could give away their hard-earned half shekel. In response, God showed him a half shekel of fire to teach him that in the same way a flame is not diminished when you let someone light a candle from your flame, giving charity does not cause a loss of money.

On Purim, we celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from Haman’s plot “to destroy and annihilate all the Jews”. The custom to wear masks on Purim alludes to the nature of the Purim miracle, when God concealed His intervention within natural events. 

Today, I pray God will accept your acts of kindness and charity and guard you in a revealed way against all harm and provide you with abundant blessings.

Happy Purim and an early Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

P.S. Please remember Jews for Judaism when you give your Purim Charity.