The challenge of our Jewish tradition in responding to this epidemic is clear. Where pain and suffering exist, we must bring comfort and solace. Where prejudice and ignorance prevail, we must provide acceptance and knowledge. Bikur cholim, pikuach nefesh, gemulit chasidim, caring for the sick, saving lives, deeds of loving kindness; these have been our values and our commitments since Sinai. They remain our guiding principles in dealing with this harrowing epidemic.
We are committed to reaching out to individuals infected with HIV/AIDS, their families, their partners, and their friends by providing food, clothing, legal assistance, transportation, and empathetic listening.
From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a reports that R. Joshua b. Levi put the question of helping the sick to no less an authority than the prophet Elijah himself. "Where, R. Joshua asked, "shall I find the Messiah?" "At the gate of the city," Elijah replied. "How shall I recognize him?" "He sits among the lepers." "Among the lepers!" cried R. Joshua. "What is he doing there?" "He changes their bandages," Elijah answered. "He changes them one by one." That may not seem like much for a Messiah to be doing. But apparently, in the eyes of God, it is a mighty thing indeed."
Our text says quite plainly that it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12) Yet, across the world, millions of people are denied access to the urgent education and care they need to prevent and fight the AIDS virus. Living in America, with a physician on every corner, AIDS has increasingly become a less scary word. Yet, worldwide, the virus is killing people at a frightening speed, and the lack of medicine and medical personnel shows little sign of improving. If, as we are told, any city, in order to be habitable, must have a physician, then we must take care to make that expertise available-through donations of time and money, through legislative efforts, through whatever means we can provide.
It is written, "In the days of prosperity, be joyful; in the day of adversity, consider" (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Further, Rabbi Tanchum ben Chiyya said: "In the happy days of your neighbors, be with them in their happiness; if an evil day befalls your neighbor, consider how your can show the neighbor loving kindness to deliver the neighbor from the evil. (Pesikta Kahana 191b). We, here in America, are living in an age of prosperity, and have much about which to be joyful. Yet, as citizens of the world house, we must also remember that everyone in the world is our neighbor. And our neighbors affected by the AIDS virus worldwide are living in evil days. The words of Rabbi Tanchum ring true in our day-there are ways to show these neighbors loving kindness, thereby, even if only briefly, delivering them from evil.