Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – M’tzora
Lord Acton taught us, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
American Statesman Adlai Stevenson said, “Power corrupts, but lack of power corrupts absolutely.”
Novelist William Gaddis disagreed, “Power doesn’t corrupt people. People corrupt power.”
These thoughts put power into perspective. Power is intoxicating, and it is jealous. Once it takes hold, it turns back “except in the face of greater power” (thank you, Malcolm X). This power thing can destroy us and humanity! To what end is the pursuit of power? That said, we learn from the Gospel According to Mark (Biblical, not me), “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?” Publilius Syrus intoned, “A rooster has great influence on his own dunghill.” None of us is essential as we think we are.
What is its purpose? Power is so often short-lived when it comes at the expense of another. The intoxication of power, though, only serves to secure more power. After all, George Orwell wrote, “Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution to establish the dictatorship.” We live in a world where people measure our value by the potency of our power. Our fixation on power drives most all conflict in this world.
Reminding us that power can yield good or evil, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Even mother’s milk nourishes murderers as well as heroes.” So, perhaps it is not power – it is what most people do with power. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson understood this conundrum, “I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from exercising power over others.” Our tradition teaches (Pirke Avot), “Who is powerful? One who has power over one’s own inclinations.” Ultimately, Spider Man taught us, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Enter his week’s Torah portion. We find ours in conflict. A member of the tribe has contracted a disease – skin lesions – we usually translate it as something akin to leprosy. Whether the individual did any number of heinous things to warrant the illness or whether it just happened, Torah provides us with a strict protocol for dealing with the individual and the disease – and it’s all about power.
If someone bears the rash-like lesions, the community must bring him to the Kohen (High Priest), who alone has the power to declare someone impure – warranting exile. Only the Kohen can restore the person upon recovery. That’s a lot of power.
This power to condemn stands in opposition to the Kohen’s charge to bless people with love and pursue peace. It should never be easy for the one who represents the God of love to demonize another – for whatever reason. The afflicted person’s life hangs in the balance of the Kohen’s use or misuse of power.
It is important to note that it is not the illness that makes the afflicted one impure – he/she/they is/are afflicted. Even arguing as the sages do that one suffering this affliction did something wrong, whatever “transgression” the afflicted committed to warrant the disease – it is still up to the Priest to make the decision for exile. The afflicted is not impure – warranting exile – until the Kohen says that the afflicted is impure. The Priest has the power to decide who matters and who does not.
Things happen to people. Often our life status happens to us. To whom we are born; where we grew up: and what color, biology, and sociology handed us have more to say about who we are and how people perceive us than any other force. The blessing or challenge – it is who we are before we have an opportunity to make any affirmations or changes. The problem is not who we are. The problem is how those who seek power over us judge us (or how we seek power over them), or how those who seek empowerment with us merge who they are with who we are to create something bigger than either of us. A person’s value is found in their humanity – any other standard is abusive.
A judge decides to help a defendant in a criminal case. A neighbor cuts the grass for an infirm person living next door. A child who takes time from personal pursuits to care for a loved one in need. A community rallies around people suffering attacks of bigotry. We are a nation of Kohanim (Ex. 19:6). Each of us has the power to alienate the other. Each of us has the power to love and engage each other – even when we disagree. Elsewhere, Torah tells us that we must choose to bless or to curse – life or death. In every case, the text commands us to choose life. For all the “religious” people out there choosing power over humanity – please reread your bible.