Plague: Guest Post from Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl

Photo by conor rabbett on Unsplash

Photo by conor rabbett on Unsplash

The rabbis taught העולם כמנהגו נוהג. The world is governed by inexorable forces over which humans have limited control, if any. It is human nature to hope that one would survive catastrophe.We look back on the history of humankind and thank our lucky stars that we did not experience the ravages of war, the earthquakes and tsunamis that obliterated the lives of hundred if not millions. We often wondered, did we not, what we would do, how we would react in the face of disaster and catastrophe. This is no longer an academic exercise.

We are a finite species living on a fragile planet. Even if the toll of this virus is not as horrific as is anticipated, it will have impacted enough of humanity to rank as a major disrupter of life as we have known it. Suffering is inevitable. The question is how we will respond to that reality. Will we marshal our resources of compassion and decency? Will we be brave enough to triage our tangible assets to sacrifice for the common good?

If the past is any indicator, we can expect some outrageous collateral damage. First will be theological. Theists will ask if this a punishment from God? Or, what is God trying to teach? Second will be to ask who is to blame. Who can be held responsible? A lot will depend on who we see as our neighbors and our kin as opposed to strangers and enemies. Fear is inevitable. The message of the prophets, taught Rabbi Sheldon Blank, is that despair is a sin and hope is a duty. Easier said than done. Still it is something toward which to aspire. At the very least we should care for ourselves and care for each other.

About Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl
Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl is now serving as Emanuel Emeritus Rabbi at BHC. He served Temple Emanuel of Baltimore from 1963 to 2000 and Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel from 2000 to 2016. Since 2000, he has been teaching Judaic Studies at the University of Maryland/Baltimore County. From 1972 to 1989, Rabbi Buchdahl was also a Professor of Religious Studies at Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University). In addition to his ordination from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Rabbi Buchdahl earned an M.L.A. from Johns Hopkins University and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. For 20 years, he was on the Clinical Review Board at Sinai Hospital as well as on its Ethics Committee. Similarly, he was on the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). He served two terms as President of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis. He also served as President of the Baltimore Branch of the American Jewish Congress. Rabbi Buchdahl’s poems have been published in Aufbau, the CCAR Journal and the New Kehilla Machzor. He has several other interests, including Jewish roles in detective fiction, BWI’s Pathfinder program and making periodic trips to his native Germany. Rabbi Buchdahl and his wife, Sheila, are the parents of Micah, Ezra and Hannah and the grandparents of Max, Sara, Lily and Benjamin.

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