COVID-19 Lessons from Shavuos

Rabbi Ari Kievman

Chabad House


And the Jewish people encamped next to the mountain, like one man with one heart.


(Rashi, Exodus 19:2)


ויחן שם ישראל כאיש אחד בלב אחד.


(רש"י על שמות יט:ב)


Unlike most other holidays, Shavuot does not have very many ceremonial rituals. One of the Biblical observances of the holiday though, was Bikkurim,1 bringing one’s first ripened fruits to the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem, declaring thanks to G-d.


What’s interesting is that when Moses instructed the Jewish people about this mitzvah, they were still wandering in the desert;2 without any fields or vineyards. Only once they finally conquered and settled in Israel, a process that took 14 years, did this actually become applicable.


Why?


We aren’t meant to take our blessings for granted. So if the purpose of Bikkurim was to express our gratitude then why wait?


Our sages3 explain that indeed the Bikkurim commandment would not take effect until everyone inhabited their inheritance of the Land. Even if I was ensconced in my property but others weren’t yet in theirs, I couldn’t rejoice until everyone was settled.


Why wait for others? Shouldn’t I be grateful as soon as my crop has grown?


The Talmud4 explains that, “All of Israel are guarantors for each other.” As long a fellow Jew was still unsettled, it was impossible for anyone to truly celebrate. How can I really be happy when another is lacking?


The atmosphere at Mt. Sinai there was similar. We were only worthy to receive the Torah when we’re all like “one person, with one heart,”5 in genuine unity.


Our community’s swift response to COVID-19 and our extended protocols have emphasized this lesson. If just one person may be susceptible, saving one life is saving the world.6

We are all in this together. For me to win, I need you to win.


  1. Numbers 18:13, 28:26; Mishnah, Bikkurim 1:3

  2. Deuteronomy 26:1-11

  3. Talmud, Kiddushin 37b

  4. Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b; Talmud, Shavuot 39a-b

  5. Midrash, Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 19:2; Midrash, Tanna d’Vei Eliyahu Zuta, Pirkei HaYeridot 7; Rashi, Exodus 19:2

  6. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5 (Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a)

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi