Corona victim numbering

Every Corona Virus victim has a name and a story. The number 500,000 should give us pause to think about that. Op-ed.

Rabbi Eli Hecht ,

צילום: ISTOCK

We are dealing with tragedy unprecedented in this century. As of Monday, February 22nd, the official death toll from the Corona Virus is 500,000 and growing. The deadly virus has crossed the limits stated by government officials, doctors, scientists and researchers. Yes, it is over half a million and growing strong. The vaccine seems to be helping but then again those who survived the Virus have other new medical conditions that are destroying their health. Sickness continues and people will continue to die.

But the number 500,000 given is something to think about.

World leadership is trying to relate to the tragic situation. They do it by comparing the numbers of the departed to something that can be numbered as well. We need to comprehend this tragedy. Leadership states that more people have died from the Virus than soldiers during World War II. More people have died overshadowing the destruction of many cities during recent wars like Vietnam and Iraq. These numbers pale compared to the tragedy taking place in the world right now. It seems that we need a number for people to come to their senses and realize how bad things are.

On the other hand, I think by accentuating the number we inadvertently diminish the ongoing tragedy. We have a fixed number of 500,000 and the people relate to it as a number, which is impersonal and dampens the emotional grief. After all, it is real people who die. It’s not just a number, is it? Examples of tragedies become acceptable as the normal way of living and dying.

Jewish people are celebrating the holiday of Purim. We read a scroll called the Megilah of Esther where we are told that the Persian King Achashverosh was approached by a nefarious minister called Haman who offered 10,000 silver talents corresponding to 10,000 Jewish leaders. The price Haman was willing to pay to exterminate the Jews was 24 million silver talents or 750 tons of silver. He reduced the lives of people to money. The amount of money offered by Haman was a number which made it impersonal in order to kill the Jewish people.

How does the 500,000 Corona deaths compare to the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust? Can we say it’s just a number? The number diminishes the emotional impact, ending the dignity of mankind by replacing it with a number.

In our history we are told that King Pharaoh numbered the Jews he was going to kill in Egypt, Haman numbered the Jews he was going to kill in Persia, Hitler numbered the Jews in Europe, and Stalin numbered the Jews that he did away with in Russia. It seems that the idea of a number takes away the guilt and the severity of the crime. Perhaps that is why prisoners are given numbers and are not called by name.

People are not numbers. We cannot replace the 500,000 that have died so far from the Virus, nor can we replace the six million Jews that were killed during WWII. However, what we can do is make everyone an important number. Every person should be counted as a world in itself.

What is needed is preventive medicine. We are not to be reduced to numbers. We are children of the Supreme Being, the Almighty G-d.

Until we have a better way of recognizing the tragedy we will have to live with the numbers and hopefully the deaths will diminish and the world will become a safer place.

Israel has performed graciously by offering the vaccine to other countries and is a leader in medicine worldwide. Let’s hope and pray that the vaccine will prevail in preventing the virus and help heal people and that we will quickly have a safer world.

And remember the words put to poetry by the late Zelda Schneerson Mishkovsky, the deeply G-d fearing poetess of Jerusalem.

Every Man has a Name

Every man has a name
Given him by G-d
And given by his father and his mother
Every man has a name
Given him by his stature and his way of smiling,
And given him by his clothes.
Every man has a name
Given him by the mountains
And given him by his walls
Every man has a name
Given him by the planets
And given him by his neighbors
Every man has a name
Given him by his sins
And given him by his longing
Every man has a name given him by those who hate him
And given him by his love
Every man has a name
Given him by his holidays
And given him by his handiwork
Every man has a name
Given him by the seasons of the year
And given him by his blindness
Every man has a name
Given him by the sea
And given him
By his death.

May their memory be for a blessing.

Rav Eli Hecht is Director and Founder of Chabad of South Bay, Lomita California, former President Rabbinical Council of California, and Vice President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.