April 16, 2021
This week’s double Torah reading of Tazria and Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1-15:33) run high on the “least favorite portions of the year” list. They talk in detail about Tzara’at, discolorations of the skin, clothing, or even the walls of one’s house. Sometimes those blemishes fit certain criteria and could be classified as an affliction from God. At length, the Torah describes all the different types of discolorations and how to be purified from them. If one was indeed infected, the individual needed to be quarantined before a healing process could take place.
Normally, this portion is as interesting as the leprosy section in Grey’s Anatomy. Yet this year, the portion rings with relevance.
The Talmud (Berachot 5b) states that one could be afflicted with Tzara’at for a number of reasons: gossip, arrogance, perjury, pride, selfishness, and callousness. The reason for the quarantine: “this person caused division between husband and wife, between friend and friend, therefore let the person sit alone, cut off from the community.” According to the rabbis of the Talmud, Tzara’at was a Divine message. God was sending a personal message, “I care about you and want you to improve.” By tradition, the Tzara’at afflictions ceased with the destruction of the First Temple. Nonetheless, we would hope that signs from God have would not have stopped for God’s love and concern continues in all generations.
Not too long ago, a friend forwarded to me a letter sent from a traditional yeshivah asking people to love our neighbors better. The rabbi of the Yeshivah asked, “If God is sending a plague upon us, it’s incumbent upon us to try and understand why.” He suggested we ponder the societal effect of the virus; how it necessitates us to practice social distancing. “If we’re forced to separate from one another, then it’s hitting us as Tzara’at did.” Since Tzara’at came for indiscretions between one person and another, then perhaps that’s why this plague is affecting us, hence we need to love our fellow better.”
Now, this does not sit well with me as it is a theological challenge. I do NOT for one minute believe that God has caused COVID-19 as a punishment for us not being kind to one another. The pandemic has demonstrating mightily how we are all interconnected and one global community. We have learned just how interconnected we all really are. Furthermore, once we are analyzing the effects of Coronavirus, not all of them are negative. While we are suffering, it seems the earth is healing. Skies have become purer and bodies of water have become cleaner. Wildlife has come out of hiding. Is it possible the living earth is asking for a time out, that our planet is requesting greater consideration from us?
Another unexpected outcome of Covid-19 is that we’ve seen heroes arise from the masses. People are doing amazing things: organizing fundraisers and distributing food and necessities to the poor. Amateur and professional 3-D printers and tailors have transformed their skills to created facial screens and masks for our healthcare professionals. Last but not least, healthcare professionals and other essential workers have received the recognition and admiration that they have always deserved.
The pandemic has left no one unscarred. We all know someone who has become dreadfully infected. We know people who have died prematurely. We’ve all been distanced from family and friends, and some among us have lost our means of employment and support. We all want this to end. Yet, if we could see this not as some random event, if we could open our hearts to understand there is a lesson here, then all is not in vain. The planet, or God if you prefer, is sending us a sign. Viewing ourselves globally, caring more for the planet, veneration of the average person and admiration for our healthcare and essential workers are just some of my takeaways. I’m sure you have more of your own. Eventually, life will return to the ‘next normal’, but the lessons we learn in these times are something we need to hold dear and embody in the future.