26 April 2017
This week’s double parasha, Tazria-Metzora, deals with skin diseases and the priestly procedures involved in checking for them, assessing them, declaring the sufferers healed and reintegrating the latter into the community. They are very difficult portions, filled with what we might today call “superstitions.” Viewed carefully, however, the readings offer insight into the role of the priest in ancient Israelite society—and our corresponding roles today.
Commentators have noted that after the destruction of the Temple, we all assumed the role of the priest, becoming responsible for our own rituals and observances. By extension, we have all assumed responsibility to reach out to the sick. We turn to the medical profession for healing, but we turn to our families and friends for comfort. Illness is easier to ignore than confront, and this week’s parashiyot remind us of the holiness in providing comfort and reintegration to those who are in need. A pronouncement by a priest that an afflicted member of the community was “clean” enabled them to rejoin the community following physical isolation outside the camp. While we no longer equate illness with moral shortcomings as did our ancestors, we too yield enormous power in our ability to integrate the sick into “normal” daily life. Today, we as individuals, as well as our community and its agencies—with Federation’s support—offer a similar and critically important opportunity for those who are ill or isolated. It’s how community is built, sustained and grown.