As the new reality sets in, and all the social constructs of life begin to change, many of us are grappling with the concept of forced isolation. For any society, but especially a society as interconnected as ours, forced isolation, especially with little preparation time, has been jarring. This new existence may give us the opportunity to reflect on what a forced isolation from others means, and it may help to look at the first enforced isolation in the Torah, the metzora. It’s possible to understand the metzora’s isolation as a natural consequence of what he did: n the same way that his negativity distanced others, now he is distanced from others, and has time to reflect and to experience that isolation both literally and metaphysically.
As many of us are experiencing forced isolation today, let us remember that there are many members of our community who have been experiencing this on a smaller level, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis for a very long time, long before the coronavirus entered public consciousness. There are children in our communities who are rarely invited to a playdate whether because they are less popular, have some differences, or for whatever reason--but now that we’ve collectively been in this situation for just a few days, can you imagine a child (and his/her parents) going through this for weeks or months at end? Just waiting for one person in the class to reach out to invite them for a playdate?
And what about the special needs children among us, who sometimes attend schools outside the community, with few school friends in the community? Those children can sometimes go months and years without a Shabbat playdate or any out of school interaction with similarly aged peers. (Yes, the organizations for those children do a wonderful job, but they can’t and don’t do everything.) What about the family down your block that you have little connection to because their children attend a different school? Do you know how much they’d appreciate making another connection on the block? In this time of forced isolation, when we’re going stir crazy and wondering how we are going to survive our kids being home for weeks on end in these pre-Pesach weeks, in addition to the more serious worries, we need to remember that many people go through some semblance of this isolation even during normal times (may they return soon!)
This new reality should give us some time to think about ways that when this situation is over, we can increase true connection in the world. Think about inviting the family you have little to do with, reaching out for a playdate to the family with the special needs child who’s the same age and gender as one of yours, and increasing the social ties that everyone deserves to be part of. If you have a young child, go through your child’s class list. Instead of inviting the same few kids that she invites every Shabbat, how about suggesting to her to invite someone else and explore a friendship with someone outside that group? Don’t assume that just because they look happy and put together all the time that they can’t use a social invite.
Let us not let this moment pass by. Perhaps this new awareness of what social isolation is can create an eit ratzon for rectifying these realities in our community, as wonderful and socially connected as it is. Let us all take serious stock of those among us who are sometimes living in isolation during normal times, and decide that as a community and individuals, we will never let that happen again. May we be zocheh to acquire zechuyot of bein adam l’chaveiro, and follow the example of Aharon HaCohen who was zocheh to stop a mageifah, perhaps in the zechut of his constantly creating connections of peace and love amongst klal Yisrael, as an oheiv shalom v’rodeif shalom.