A disturbing phenomenon: During this pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in the number of individuals who have passed away in their homes without anyone knowing. Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 70 such people.
Volunteers from ZAKA are alerted by neighbors several days after these deaths occur. Upon entering the home of the deceased, the volunteers speak of feeling like they have stepped into a realm of solitude. It’s a place where no one has occasionally knocked on the door to ask, “How are you?” and no one has made a phone call to check in. It’s as if no one knew that anyone was living there.
Last Shabbat we read about a human corpse that is discovered outside a city and it’s unclear who’s responsible for the 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 the elders of the city murdered the person. Yet, there is a suspicion that no one looked after the person properly in the city, which is 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 ceremony of eglah arufah 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 pandemic.
Social distancing 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.