Wearing a mask isn’t just a mandate. It’s a mitzvah!
In Hebrew, a mitzvah is a command from God. A bar mitzvah is a son of the commandments and a bat mitzvah is a daughter of the commandments. But a mitzvah is also any good deed that fulfills the commandments of God.
One of the highest commandments is to protect life. Jews are allowed to break almost any other commandment to keep this one: Jesus even broke the sabbath commandment so he could heal* and feed** his disciples! A faithful Jew who values life this much could never value her freedom or comfort more.
In Judaism, protecting one human life is tantamount to protecting a whole world, and endangering one life puts a whole world in danger. Judaism is fiercely pro-life.
Washing hands, keeping our distance from others, and wearing a mask are good deeds that keep God’s high commandment to protect life – my neighbor’s and my own.
Jews recite a blessing, or brachah, before a mitzvah is done. Obeying commands can easily become habit and drudgery but reciting a blessing first reminds us what we’re about to do is sacred and honors God.
But when we entered this pandemic there was no blessing for the mitzvot of handwashing, socially distancing, and mask-wearing! So, Rabbi Michael Knopf wrote one: “You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about protecting life.”
This blessing reminds me that taking action to protect my life and my neighbor’s life is more than a mandate. It’s a mitzvah! It’s not only safe but truly sacred.
* Mark 3:1-6
** Matthew 12:1