Dear Congregation Kehillah and Friends,
What can we do to sensitize ourselves to the needs of others? How can we learn to warmly and compassionately reach out to others to include them so they know they are welcome and not alone?
This week we study a double parasha, Tazria (Exodus 12:1-13:59) and Metzora (Exodus 14:1-15:33). Double parashiyot are read on separate weeks in a leap year when we add an entire month to the Hebrew calendar. A 'metzora' is someone who is afflicted with tzara'at, a skin disease, which led to their temporary exclusion from society, and also, importantly, about procedures for re-entry. In an era without doctors, the High Priest filled this role and was instructed not to wait for the stricken individual to come to him, but that he was to specifically reach out to that individual and to facilitate his re-integration into the community.
Skin afflictions and other physical impurities were of great concern in biblical days. The priests had the power to isolate a person suspected of disease and evaluate the re-entry procedures. A relevant question arising out of this study is - how can we enable individuals who have been excluded from society to re-enter?
While tzara'at manifested physically, it was not primarily a physical disease. Consider the following:
1. We know that before the high priest would come to the afflicted home, the owners were instructed to put all of their belongings/furnishings out in the street. Wouldn't this seem to spread the disease?
2. During the shalosh regalim (three pilgrim festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), the laws of metzora were suspended. Since there were hordes of people in the streets of Jerusalem, suspending the laws that required isolation of the afflicted individuals would not seem to have been in the best interest of public health.
What conclusion can we draw from this? Perhaps we are not dealing with a physical disease at all, but rather, a disease of the spirit. The rabbis understood that it came as a result of gossip or slander. From Pirke Avot 4:28, we learn that lust, over-extended pride, and overwhelming desire for undue respect or honor can bring about the affliction. When isolated, the individual has the opportunity to figure out why the punishment was deserved; when one engages in gossip, it isolates the subject of the gossip without his/her chance to respond and gives the one who gossiped the chance to see what it felt like to be shunned and then hopefully to take responsibility for having acted in that way. Don't we often criticize or put down in other people that which we tolerate in ourselves?
Our sages had much to say on the topic....not surprising for a people who understand that the power of life and death is in the tongue and that the entire world was created with a word!
A kavannah before candlelighting on Shabbat Tazria-Metzora
From a Talmudic rabbi, Mar of Ravina:
My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from speaking deception. Before those who slander me, cause me to hold my tongue and help me to practice humility. Open my heart to Your Torah..., protect me from those who seek to slander me...
And from a modern Rabbi: ...and please help me to be an agent for welcoming, inclusivity and acceptance.
Looking forward to sharing Torah Talk with you this Shabbat morning at 10:30 a.m. via Zoom (RSVP and receive link before Shabbat) and Kabbalat Shabbat with you next Friday night, the 23rd of April.
Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman