Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Tazria/Metzora
Show of hands – how many of us are tired of the horrific tone of conversation in the world right now? I figured that whatever one’s politics, this is a pretty agreeable thought – perhaps enough for us to build upon in coming back together. I have to admit, though, there are times I almost lose faith. I see people post blatant lies on social media and even when you can prove to them that what they posted is inaccurate, they don’t seem to care. I have no problem with vehement disagreement, but some of this is simply gut-wrenching.
In the midst of all of this, we get to what many sages call the ugliest portion of the Torah reading cycle. Tazria – Metzora (two weeks of readings combined into one for holiday cycle purposes) speaks about women who are unclean after giving birth, men and women made unclean by “nightly bodily discharges,” and skin afflictions. UGH!
I know congregations that skip this portion. I can’t count the number of Bar/Bat Mitzvah families who selected to change dates rather than have their children read form these pieces. My daughter, Corey, read from this portion for the celebration of her Bat Mitzvah 20 years ago. The true feminist that I raised her to be, she talked about how double standards were unfair and how anyone afflicted is still part of the community. She reminded us that we all “lepers.” Each of us has some affliction that could separate us from the rest of the community, but Torah obligates us to keep from alienating ourselves from each other. Wise words from a then 12 ½-year-old young lady.
More than that, though, Torah reminds us that even in the case of the most contagious of illnesses, we must never be complacent in letting people languish, alone. Torah requires the Priest to make regular checks on the afflicted to ensure their return to the community at the earliest available moments. No one should have to wait to return to their communities. Even when outside of camp (because they are contagious), we cannot ignore them. We have to maintain contact and services for their needs.
The Chofetz Chaim (amazing sage of the 19th – 20th century) taught that this illness that separates communities is a physical manifestation/personification of evil speech – lashon harah. When ones slanders another, it is as if one alienates himself from the whole community; he gets thrown out of camp. One does not deserve the blessings that the community has to offer when one hurts another with speech. That said, though, the community can never give up on trying to rekindle a relationship with the slanderer.
We have to keep making attempts to heal the breach and restore the relationship. Sometimes, we do not have it in us to do this work, but faith always requires us to try. People say stupid things sometimes, but they are not the sum-total of the person’s value. We cannot dismiss people because they upset us. In fact, our tradition demands that we have to work even harder to fix the relationship, even if we were the wronged individual.
Yes, this is an ugly portion, but it teaches the most faithful of lessons. Don’t hold a grudge. The world suffers under way too many of them. Each of us has full control to see the world through a different lens; hopefully a less judgmental lens.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, sang, “When the garden flowers are dead, yes. And your mind, your mind is so full of red … Don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love? Wouldn’t you love somebody to love? You better find somebody to love.” She was spot on. And, at the risk of another musical quote, Sister Hazel wrote, “If you want to be somebody else. Change your mind.” Smokey the Bear taught, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Let’s do this! Shabbat Shalom.