Wherever we turn, we’re bombarded with information about COVID-19, the coronavirus that’s spreading around the world causing tremendous fear and anxiety. We’re not immune to this fear and anxiety down here in South Florida. Have you tried to purchase antibacterial gel or wipes!? How many of you have searched the internet for masks that experts say won’t help us? So many of us are rushing around, preparing for a quarantine.
We certainly need to be aware of what’s going on and pay attention to health alerts. It certainly can’t hurt to have a reasonable amount of supplies in our homes just as we do for hurricane season. Of course, we should wash our hands, avoid touching our faces and stay home if we don’t feel well. But, from everything I’ve been told, there is no need to panic. This is easier said than done given the all-consuming crash course on the dangers of this Coronavirus that has been forced upon us.
Let’s hope that the amount of time and energy we’ve given to COVID-19 will actually stop the spread of this contagion and literally heal the world. When this happens, or better yet, right now, it would be nice if we could direct some of our time and energy to actually spreading something that Judaism and science teach us is also a contagion – a contagion that can radically change the world for the better. This contagion is one that most of us, fortunately, have the ability to spread right now: kindness.
“Rabbi Mattia ben Charash said: Precede everyone you meet with a greeting of “Shalom/Peace.’ ” (Ethics of our Fathers 4:15). A warm, heartfelt greeting is one way we can spread kindness. For years, science has taught us that positive emotions are infectious. Judaism agrees. The late Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005) z”l referred to a warm, heartfelt greeting as hazrachas shemesh, sunshine. Just as plants need sunshine to thrive, Rabbi Wolbe taught that we humans need the sunshine of a kind greeting to thrive as well.
Our rabbis teach us that we can share kindness without even sharing words. A sincere smile does the trick. Centuries ago, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: “One who whitens his teeth to his friend by smiling at him is better than one who gives him milk to drink.” (Ketubot 111b) Milk is an important nutrient but smiling at someone (whitening your teeth) is more nourishing, more fortifying, more precious. And it’s catching. It fills folks with positive emotions which they, in turn, will spread to others. Contagious smiles. This is what the world needs right now!
So, get your Purell if you still can. If you can’t, just wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. Remain calm. And, when you’re out and about, greet each other warmly, smile sincerely and spread kindness. Notice, our tradition teaches that we can actually do this without hugging and kissing – things that many of us are avoiding these days!
As many of us continue to be laser focused on keeping COVID-19 out of our lives, just imagine how much better this world would be if we were just as focused on sharing some kindness, a smile, a greeting with every single person we come in contact with. It just might radically change this world for the better. I suggest we all try it and see what happens.

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