“Stay home. Save lives.”

These words blinked on the overhead electronic traffic sign as I sped down the highway. As a medical professional treating patients in the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, my work is considered “essential business.” In New York, the infection rate is doubling every 3 days and many New York clinics like mine are doing everything we can to #FlattenTheCurve. But we are failing.

Many providers in New York know exactly what I’m talking about. While the military sends a floating hospital to America’s “ground zero” and New Yorkers wait for the federal government to send in more medical supplies, the heroic women and men serving on the “front lines” of this war are feeling woefully underprepared. I recently created a Facebook group titled the “Jewish COVID-19 Support Group” and, within moments after it was live, I had urgent requests from medical providers and families in New York begging for my help in procuring masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). One person was the wife of an ICU physician from Long Island who told me her husband didn’t even have enough masks for his own staff.

I could empathize with her. Every day in my medical clinic, dozens of patients cram together in the small waiting room. Some wear masks. Many don’t. My medical staff make regular announcements, directing people to space themselves six feet away from one another. Some even sit on the stairs outside the waiting room. But with the new guidelines discouraging us from testing asymptomatic patients and most of my patients being homeless and living in close-quarter public shelters, I have to assume we are being exposed to COVID-19 on a daily basis. One of my resourceful co-workers literally built a wall of plastic between me and my patients as an additional protective measure.

But we don’t have enough N95 masks. I only have two and am trying to figure out how to reuse them. My mother—a retired microbiologist—has been researching and advising me on how I might survive exposure to the virus without the proper PPE. My mother-in-law is shipping me two N95 masks she found in California. Both aren’t sustainable solutions.

As I sped down what usually was a jammed highway I hoped that my fellow New Yorkers were taking this crisis seriously. It surprised me to see how many hundreds of cars and people were out and about.

Rabbi Yehosha ben Perachia taught in the Talmud1 to “judge everyone favorably” so I told myself that all these people must be fellow medical providers or people with essential business needs. “After all, this war can literally be won by people staying home and sitting on their couch,” I told myself. But, even with all the hashtags, CDC updates, and frantic social media posts, I knew some of the folks I was seeing were likely those who think life can go on as usual.

It is for this reason that I now feel the urgency to stand up and speak out—especially to those not in the New York area, who are (thankfully) spared from what we are now living through.

While we don’t understand why the Creator has allowed this virus to infect the world, we do understand the Torah’s clarion call to save lives. Even during non-pandemic times, we are commanded to “guard your lives”2 and are even allowed todesecrate the Shabbat for the sake of “pikuach nefesh” - rescuing lives at risk. During a pandemic, we must particularly consider the Torah’s mandate to protect public health, as it states, “Do not bring blood upon your house,”3 and “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.”4

Rabbis all over the world have united in their call to follow medical directives and do everything we can to ensure that the virus is as contained as possible.

But there may still be some who resist the imperative to stay home.

To these folks, I implore you to pause and consider the following story of the 19th century Torah scholar, Rabbi Yitzchak Dov Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav.

Someone once asked him the following question, “If there are two equally competent physicians to consult with, should I consult with the one who is more God-fearing?” The Brisker Rav angrily replied that one shouldn’t even “consider” a physician’s “fear of G‑d.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, once asked, why indeed did the Brisker Rav reject the premise of the question and, not just reject it, but angrily reject it?5

The Rebbe answered that it must be that the Brisker Rav understood that if he showed even the slightest interest in the degree of a physician's religiosity, it may eventually lead to a catastrophe. If he would have validated the question, the story might one day lead someone somewhere to think that the Torah requires one to select a more religious doctor over a less religious one. This might lead to the selection of a medical caretaker who is less of an expert which, in turn, might lead to lives being placed at risk. In order to save a potential future life, in a farfetched potential future scenario, the Brisker Rav shut down the question from the get-go and even feigned anger. The Rebbe writes in a letter that we all must learn from the Brisker Rav that, “...in a situation where lives are or can be at risk, it is forbidden to remain silent.”

The Torah teaches that we consider even a potential danger to life as being equivalent to a certain danger.6 Furthermore, when lives are in danger, Torah law dictates that “it is a mitzvah for the greatest among the group” to personally desecrate the law in order to save a life. As it states, “One who shows alacrity is praiseworthy, one who stops to ask is a murderer, and one who is asked is worthy of disgust.”7

The very same halachah (Torah law) that directs us to congregate for prayer also directs us not to aggravate a pandemic. The very same Torah that commands, “I am the L‑rd, Your G‑d”8 also commands, “And healing shall [the human] heal.”9

What’s really needed now is for all the good people of the earth to unite and fight this virus together. We can start by debunking myths from contacts in our network who say, “This is only a disease of the elderly,” “I have no symptoms so I’m safe,” or “It’ll all be over in a couple of weeks.”

My medical colleagues who are putting their lives at risk on the “front lines” can attest that these are all false. There is no consensus in the medical community for how to accurately distinguish COVID-19 from any other condition based solely on clinical presentation.

Many carriers are indeed completely asymptomatic. And while most young people without comorbidities are likely to be fine, our hospitals are filling up with more and more young and otherwise completely healthy people who now require ventilators just to breathe. Furthermore, every medical professional whom I have spoken with posits that this pandemic will worsen over the next 30-45 days before it gets better.

This is why I proclaim the following: Stay home for Passover and help us liberate the world from this plague. I know that many will desire to be with their loved ones for the Passover seder. So I invite you to remember the Paschal sacrifice, which the Passover seder commemorates, and the Torah’s definition of sacrifice.

On this upcoming Shabbat, the weekly Torah reading is from the first few chapters of theVayikra, often translated as the “Book of Leviticus,” since it focuses on the ancient sacrifices and rituals conducted by the priestly tribe of Levi. And yet, the word “Vayikra'' doesn't mean “tribe of Levi;” it rather refers to the act of “calling out.” One can only “call out” to another. The ancient Hebrew word for sacrifice, “korban,” means to “come close.” One can only “come close” to another. This entire third book is given the title of “calling out” to teach us that the point of a “sacrifice” is not what you give up of yourself but what you give to another.

On this day, I call out to you to spread the word and dispel the darkness. I call out to you to be like Reb Yisroel Salanter who taught, “Most men worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.”

I call out to you to be like Reb Yisroel Baal Shem Tov who taught, “One must give up of your ruchaniut (spirituality) for the sake of another’s gashmiut (physical needs).” I call out to you to stay home and save lives. As the Torah teaches, “Whoever saves one life is as if they saved an entire world.”10