“Wearing a mask in public is a deliberate act of caring for others … a concrete way to live the challenge to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Do you wear a mask when you are out in public? Your answer to this question reveals something profound about you.
The masks you are asked to wear in public do not protect you from the other, but rather protect the other from you. The act of wearing a mask isn’t an act of self-concern, but an act of concern for others. Wearing a mask is a concrete way to live the challenge to love your neighbor as yourself.
A friend of my wife’s works a second job as a cashier in a big box store. She wears a mask to protect her customers and stands behind a plastic shield to protect herself. The other day, a man walked up to her register, paid for his purchases, walked passed the shield and coughed on her so strongly—so deliberately—that she felt his spittle on her face. He was not wearing a mask. His cough was premeditated.
Why did he do this? He was angry, certainly. Perhaps he was afraid as well. Perhaps he was on the verge of financial ruin caused by loss of a job and genuinely feared for the welfare of his family. Perhaps he was a loving husband and father who saw this mask-wearing cashier mocking him for his impending poverty and callous disregard for pandemic protocol. Or perhaps he was a loyal Trumpist who saw mask-wearing as an act of liberal anti-Americanism.
Perhaps. But his motives don’t matter. What matters is his action. And his action was a potentially deadly assault on a perfect stranger who was simply trying to put food on her table by working a second job on the front line of COVID-19. His action was an act of terror designed as all terrorist acts are to instill fear in others. His action, like all acts of terror, was evil.
To do evil is to deliberately and unnecessarily engage in an action intended to diminish the wellbeing of another being emotionally (instilling fear and panic) and/or physically (risking the other’s health or life). Deliberately coughing on someone in a time of pandemic is an evil act.
Wearing a mask in public is a deliberate act of caring for others. Not wearing a mask in public is a deliberate act of not caring for others. You may not think so. You may have your rationale for not wearing a mask, even as it puts the health and wellbeing of others at risk, but your rationale does not in any way reduce the fact that you are engaged in an uncaring action that endangers others.
When asked which of God’s commandments in Torah were the most important, Jesus mentioned two: to love God and to love your neighbor. For me, these are two sides of the same thing.You love God by loving your neighbor, and when you love your neighbor, you love God.
Wearing a mask in public is an act of loving God and your neighbor. Not wearing one is an act of disregard for both. How ironic and sad that so many of those who refuse to wear a mask are among those who proclaim their love for God and neighbor.
Rabbi Rami is doing a special series on spirituality in the time of coronavirus.