The Brick and the Builder

by Arliene Botnick, April 30, 2020

In the midrash Tanchuma Noach 18, we read an amazing and prescient prophesy of what happens when self aggrandizement and a distortion of values infects a society, the society that had to be dispersed by God because of the Tower of Babel.

As the tower grew in height, it took one year to get bricks from the base to the upper stories. Then, bricks became “more precious than human life.” When a brick slipped and fell the people wept, but when a worker fell and died “no one paid attention”.

The brick was more important than a human life. This concept reappears in the story of Exodus where the lives of the Israelites were irrelevant, and only the building of the Pharaoh’s structures was considered paramount.

Even in our Biblical pre-history (The Story of Babel) and in the Biblical history of our 430 years of enslavement in Egypt, we learn that when property, buildings and bricks are more valued than human life, the society itself is misdirected, sick and about to implode. That was then, and this is now.

There are voices and leaders that say the economy is suffering; business as usual is a must; what’s a “few” lives lost compared to the losses of the stock market? But we have learned from our texts that even one life lost is as if the entire world was destroyed. Every life saved is as if the entire world is saved. Our responsibility, our commandments demand “Pikuach Nefesh”, to save a life is the paramount, the tantamount obligation.

Yes the economy is suffering, but it will bounce back. Yes businesses are hurting, but we and our government must do our utmost to help and keep stores and shops solvent. Those of us who can must support financially and morally, and with our actions those who need food, assistance and financial help. We can do so much, but the one thing that we cannot do is to bring back those who have been felled by COVID-19 and died.

Let’s not accept that “a few” lives, any lives lost, is acceptable. Let’s do all in our power not to throw caution to the wind, and not to ignore the self distancing rules. If we can be patient, disciplined, creative and respectful of the guidelines that our medical professionals have given us, then we will save lives.

Our nurses, doctors, health care workers, PSW’s, grocery/drug store employees, public transit workers and so many more are putting their life on the line so that our lives can continue. This is not easy, and the phrase “stir crazy” comes to mind, but when it is a choice between the brick or the builder, please choose the builder. Pikuach Nefesh – Save a life!

Keep healthy and see you all at Solel eventually.

Filed under: Educator's Message

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