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Tazria-Metzora 5781 ~ April 16, 2021

If a stranger joined our zoom service this Shabbat morning and asked to be told about our prayers and readings, we would be embarrassed. How does one explain that, on this day, we read that a new mother is unclean, that a new baby must be circumcised (without consulting him), and that the leper commands our religious attention for two full weekly portions of Torah reading?

One rabbinic commentary asks: Every birth results in ritual uncleanliness. Should we, therefore, say that women should stop giving birth?  He answers: No, for along with the laws of ritual uncleanliness, there are a number of positive commandments with every birth. And I add: If we associated the uncleanliness and the punishment associated with Eve, one might think that no woman should give birth because birth is associated totally with sin, not to mention the pain associated with childbirth.

All too often in life we become embarrassed by situations that, in our eyes, seem less than appropriate. Take for example the individual lying in a hospital bed in one of those most wonderful, revealing hospital gowns.  People who walk by open doors where patients are attempting to find rest and care in the hospital might find the sight rather distasteful.  I often sense the embarrassed, naked feeling of the individual who is lying in bed when I go to visit them. But there is no reason for that embarrassment. Even as I recite the prayer for well-being, I sometimes sense that feeling of the person in bed, solely because their head isn’t covered, or the makeup is not on. Yet, at the same time, the balance of the prayer, with a hand being held on to theirs, overcomes the feeling of embarrassment.

One of the difficult things to do in life is to sense that balance. But more than sensing that balance is understanding how to deal with it.  How does one deal with the patient lying in the bed as one walks down the hall to visit a loved one or a friend? Does one handle the situation? Does one peer into the rooms or keep their head straight ahead only looking at the room numbers? And what if you do peek and you see someone who you know in a most unsettled fashion, do you walk in? Well, on first blush, one might think that the mitzvah of bikkur cholim is such a valuable mitzvah, that I will go into the room. Perhaps by going in I might just cheer them up.  That makes perfect sense.

I would like to offer a different response based on this morning’s Torah reading. The Torah describes "nega” as a blemish, a wound, inflicted upon someone.  And this nega is of such concern to the community that the individual who is infected must be removed from the community. Why?  It is precisely because they have been afflicted with a nega, a skin disease, sometimes referred to as tzarat, which has usually been described as leprosy.  Today we understand this concept not in the term of leprosy, but a disease caused by an action one does, specifically, motzi sheym ra.    Most often it is used to play on the words metzo (find) and ra  (bad) as in one who finds bad in another and goes around talking about other people.

Today, I would like to suggest to you it is not the person who goes around talking about other people, but the person who seeks out, and in doing so breaks the silence of another person’s world, and while they are seeking metzo to do good, their actions create ra.  And what is the cure for such an individual infected with tzarat? Removal from the community.  He or she must move outside the camp for a period of seven days before their infection is reexamined, so that he or she can experience the silence of the other individual and understand. We might, therefore, say that one has to be extremely careful in wanting to seek out to do good. Sometimes reaching out to touch another and be there for them is a mitzvah. At other times, performing the mitzvah, might in truth create an opposite reaction. The careful balance is one that we all need to learn how to experience.

If a stranger would join us this Shabbat and hears the Torah reading, he/she might wonder. But we in truth have nothing to be embarrassed by. The lessons of life do not only deal with joy and good-looking occasions. This morning’s Torah reading actually helps us to understand that rituals such as ritual circumcision, birth and tzarat help us to understand the other side of life. And it is for that reason that the rabbis placed a Shabbat between Yom Hashoah and Yom Haatzmaout, Israel Independence Day, the pause between the pain and the building, the past and the future.

We are blessed that we are able to celebrate this week, Israel’s seventy-third anniversary. May the State of Israel, all who dwell in its borders, and its neighbors, continue to work towards the goal of a peaceful solution. We are grateful that during this past year we were able to witness the normalization of relations with a few more Arab states. We pray that Israel finds many more nations and people who seek its grandeur, despite its foibles; who speak her praise for not only successes as a Jewish state, but as a significant presence in our world in so many ways.

 Am Yisrael chai, the people and nation of Israel...may we continue to thrive.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782