Some basic truths have been revealed during the weeks of lockdown, quarantine and restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus. For many of us, life has slowed down. What’s the difference if we get up at 6, 7, 8 or 9 in the morning? We have to get through until 8, 9, 10 or 11 at night before we go to sleep and during those 9 to 16 hours awake, we have a lot we can do but not a lot that we have to do.
Actually, even if we have a lot to do we have little incentive to do it. If it’s not now, it’ll be later, or tomorrow, or whatever day comes after that. If some chatchka catches our eye, something we would have ignored in regular times, now we look at it more closely, examine it, take it apart. Because we have time.
This slowing of the daily cycle, this lack of pressure to get things done, this ease of gliding through the day (disclaimer: I am not talking about parents with little children, people whose livelihoods have been put on indefinite hold or the medical and other staffs that are working around the clock to keep events under some modicum of control) – this ease highlights the small mercies we are allowed, like taking a short walk, doing some exercise, and most important, it highlights the importance of connections with friends and family.
Email and WhatsApp and all the other social media platforms help in connecting but they are one-sided. We don’t “feel” the other person,
except through emojis. Zoom and Skype are better but I personally find the telephone the preferred form of one-on-one connection with other people.
Because we see others so rarely now, we realize we’ve been taking them and their qualities for granted. As much as we want to speak to them, we want to see them in person even more Seeing is the operative word here, and this brings us to our double parsha, Tazria-Metzora.
The main subject of the two parshot is the state of ritual impurity caused primarily by bodily emissions or by tsara’at, an affliction that used to be translated (incorrectly) as leprosy, Hanson’s disease. This affliction can appear in the body, clothing and the walls of a house.
What is interesting is how often the verb “to see” appears. Dozens of times in the two parshot. The cohen is supposed to see the affliction in the
body or in the stones of the home in order to determine whether it is tsara’at, whether it has been cured or whether more drastic measures are required.
Why so many times? David Berger cites the Sifra, an early midrashic work on the book of Vayikra, which interprets the multiple use of ra’ah (saw) to imply seeing the entire person. This may be taken literally as looking at all parts of the body or metaphorically as seeing the person as a whole. Holistic seeing is especially appropriate here because tsara’at is associated with malicious gossip and so is considered a somatic manifestation of rot in the psyche.
We can see this clearly in tsara’at of stones of the house. Some rabbis contend that such a manifestation never appeared in the country and was included for purposes of edification only, for teaching a lesson.
What lesson? Obviously, the home is the breeding ground for the persons who live there. A person who grows up in a home characterized by malice and gossip does not necessarily have to become a purveyor of social filth. In fact, quite the opposite may occur. But with such a background, susceptibility to such negative behaviors is greater.
Badmouthing, malicious gossip, disparagement and belittlement of others all poison the air and make a home, and society, toxic. We all know this, and all of us here try to prevent such manifestations in our homes, but still, the practice continues and spills out of the homes and into the public sphere.
Early this week, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs and Rabbi Efrem Goldman of Boca Raton conducted a Zoom discussion on the effects of the corona crisis on Judaism and on the world. Rabbi Sachs noted that this is the first catastrophe to affect the entire world all at once and in the same way.
Such a calamity, he contended, should serve to unite countries and even the people within each country because we are all on the same side. Mutual assistance is a key to success. If one country or neighborhood suffers, can others be far behind in this globalized world!
This overriding need for unity in the face of a common disaster must overcome petty and not-so-petty disputes between countries and political parties and leaders and individuals in the community. Those who insist on
spreading malicious fake news about real or imagined opponents poison the air, increase the ambient tsara’at and reduce chances of combatting the invisible enemy. It has been suggested that purveyors of fake news be given the treatment prescribed in the Torah for those with tsara’at: solitary confinement outside the camp, As Dr. Samuel Lebens explains it, the isolation of social distance is a particularly fitting punishment for a person who has caused social distance with his speech.
That won’t happen. Either we are ready to accept news that supports our own prejudices about someone or something, for the good or the bad, no matter how outrageous it is, or it seems plausible. Nor are we likely to remember the feelings of isolation we are experiencing and allow them to influence how we treat others in the community for any length of time.
What is most likely is a steady rebound to our pre-corona life style, so that writings such as this one will seem like pie-in-the-sky pap to anyone reading them a year after the corona crisis subsides.
In the meanwhile, we hope for the best, and for our physical, mental and moral health.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov