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Thursday
Aug222019

Inoculation against Obstacles

We are currently in the grip of the largest measles outbreak in the United States in two decades. In 2000, measles was declared eradicated in the United States. Ironically, though, the childhood vaccination program was a victim of its own success. Because the risk of contracting measles was seen as low, more people began to opt out of vaccination, citing fears of vaccine side effects. This created the conditions that allowed the measles virus to once again spread.

Unfortunately, the locus of the measles outbreak is in the Jewish population, primarily in New York State. While measles vaccination rates are high, the close-knit nature of the community and large family size made measles easier to spread. The Jewish community is now engaged in an all-out effort to contain the outbreak and encourage measles vaccination.

When the polio vaccine was first introduced, the Rebbe was asked whether the vaccine should be given. The Rebbe’s response was that once safety and efficacy of the vaccine had been well-established, parents should not “separate themselves from the community” and should get vaccinated.

As is known, limiting the spread of a virus depends on herd immunity. When more people are vaccinated, there are fewer susceptible people to spread the virus throughout a population. This leaves everyone better off, including those who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated. Judaism places a strong emphasis on doing what’s right for the community as a whole.

As we know, every discovery in the physical world has a parallel in the spiritual realms. In a letter, the Rebbe once shared his observation on the spiritual lesson we can learn from vaccines:

“Several decades ago, in the field of medicine, it was discovered that the body can avoid certain illnesses if a person is vaccinated i.e. inoculated with a radically weakened strain of those diseases. Through this process, the body produces antibodies custom-made weapons to guard against the illness.

“The principles of healing the body, according to Maimonides, apply equally to remedies of the soul. This can provide us with a positive way of viewing minor difficulties in the execution of an important project. A weak dose of opposition early on in a venture can serve as a ‘vaccine’ against more severe and difficult adversity later on.”

Let’s apply the Rebbe’s insight on vaccines to our work to bring Moshiach. When we try to spread the message of Redemption, or make personal changes in our lives to get ready for Redemption, we often face obstacles and opposition. But the Rebbe encourages us to see them as an inoculation that strengthens us and allows us to achieve greater feats. We must ignore all challenges and continue to go forth confidently, trusting that the Redemption is imminent.

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