Rav Sheishet is quoted to have said that the Jews should not be held responsible for their sins, as they were “drunk without having drunk wine” due to all the hardships they encountered during the continued state of exile. A lame excuse. Everyone is responsible for his own deeds.
True: one is not supposed to pray when drunk, but otherwise we are held responsible for our own actions. Only when someone is as drunk as Lot was when he was so plastered he did not know whom he had sex with for two consecutive nights, he is exempt from all obligations. That is quite an inebriation, but I think some teenagers that rushed to the bars tonight after our Prime Minister announced a closing of drinking facilities for the next 4 weeks, may come close.
Not only substance abuse can prevent a man from directing his full attention to prayer, learning or administration of justice: Mar Ukva did not serve on a court when the wind was from the south, and Nachman ben Yitzchak even said that the wind should come from the north. Abaye said he was distracted by his mothers dish of sour milk, moldy bread and sodomite salt; Rava complained he couldn’t concentrate when bitten by lice; hence he changed clothing every day.
Some Rabbis didn’t find the right concentration to pray for three days after a trip or were so distracted by the smell of beer or fried fish that they could not pray in the same house.
It is only human to find excuses for transgressions. And surely there are cases when we can be excused for them. But only in extreme situations. Personal distress does not absolve us from our own responsibilities.
Today, our Prime Minister locked down most of the country to prevent the corona virus to spread even further. Almost immediately, social media were filled with people who explained the unfairness of it all, how they would try to circumvent the new regulations, why the new rules do not apply to them or, like the teenagers above, decided to go out and get drunk as long as it was still “allowed”.
Whatever the excuse, we are responsible.