Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -Tazria- M’tzora
Last week, we read of the demise of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. After the altar’s dedication, they, as young new priests, brought a fire to the altar other than what God had ordered. The Torah never said that it was wrong, only that they died as a result. Mostly, the sages condemn the boys, arguing that it must have been wrong if they died. After all, the rest of the portion speaks about prohibited foods and about being drunk. Given this context, I understand how easy it is for the sages to conclude that boys acted badly, arguing that God instructed people not to do it again.
Some of us argue that any fire other than what the establishment expects is damning to the one bringing the offering. Martyrs throughout history have been slaughtered for speaking out against the injustice of the system. That they stood on the “other side” did not make them wrong. The prophets were always in opposition to the establishment – governments that “ruled on behalf of God.”
In our own day, people pledge our flag saying, “One nation under God.” They then finish the pledge and go about demeaning anyone who sees God differently, looks or loves differently, or speaks a different language. God is the bully pulpit. People who protest injustice are denigrated and dismissed – or killed.
This week, we switch gear and topic, sort of. We read of the tza-a-rat this week. First, we read of a women’s menstrual cycle and ritual impurity. The Torah then goes on, at length, about what gets commonly translated to read, “leprosy.” The text describes skin afflictions that lead many, on a literal level, to think about leprosy or eczema. Knowing that the sages never intended us to read the Biblical text literally, the sages use “tza-a-rat” metaphorically. Every plague falls under the category of tza-a-rat. Of course, hundreds of sermons given last year compared COVID to tza-a-rat. Sages use the plague concept as a metaphor for other social and behavioral maladies, as well.
Once one contracts the illness, one is sequestered from camp until the priest decides he/she is healed. Certain skin lesions are tolerable; others are not. If the priest thinks the matter is bad enough, the afflicted person’s belongings and home can be burned to the ground. A lot of power vests in the integrity of the priest. The whole conversation revolves around the ethos of protecting the community from becoming infected. Certainly, we are living this message out with COVID precautions.
That said, and as necessary as it is for people to watch out for society’s betterment, we have historical evidence that sometimes, people abuse power. Deciding that Jews were hazardous to society drove the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Shoah, and the history of attacks on Jews. The same hateful discrimination has played out against every “other” in society. In our own day, a United States President called all Arabs terrorists, all Hispanics rapists, etc. We march in the streets and protest in the legislative houses over racially motivated “Police Brutality.” Given the rise in anti-Semitism, I can’t help but take Islamophobia, anti-Asian and all ethnic, gender, racial, and orientation discrimination personally, as well. These “phobias” stem from the institution in power – the priest who gets to decide who is in and who is not.
As I read this week’s portion and see that next week’s again mentions the death of Aaron’s sons, I have to believe that these weeks are not disjointed. These texts provide a continued debate over the struggle between those in power and those who march to a different beat – or better – the same beat differently.
Equity happens when everyone involved experiences “fairness.” Certainly, we need watchdogs. More certainly, we need to make sure that the people empowered to make these decisions on behalf of society do so without regard for personal or partisan power. Perhaps this is also a commentary on partisan elections where the candidates and their respective political parties see themselves as the victors, irrespective of their concern for the “all of the people” they are supposed to represent. Societies cannot flourish when gaining/holding on to power is goal number one in governance.
Ultimately, we can never use “protecting society” as an excuse to demean or dismiss anyone. Where we do, we only undermine our own integrity when we do have to make tough decisions that might cause sequestration or some alienation of rights. Whatever our position in society, we have to remember that each of us is entrusted to take the best care of society -not by our own standards or desires but in everyone’s best interest. In God, there are no first and second-class people.