This week we read the porion known as “Metzora”, the twin with last week’s section, “Tazria”. As we wrote last week, these two are often read together except for leap years such as now. Again, the overriding theme is dealing with illness and how priests and the community treated a skin disease. Disease, even now, exhibits in people fear. There is a fear of “what if this happens to me?” and still, in mnay cases, a fear that if I come in contact with the person who is ill, I will catch this. And yes, given the reality of disease, this is often true. Isolating people with infections is a theme of Metzora and we still see it today.
The portions spend a lot of time dealing with how to detect and handle the diseased person and we see that there is, upon diagnosis, the exclusion of the ill person from the camp. Isolation is a very real issue today, not only physical isolation, but emotional isolation. Dr Elliot Dorf discusses this issue in his Jewish Sacred Aging pod cast (see this section on the web site and you can listen to his discussion) when he points out that isolation is one of the by-products if illness. The text for “Metzora” begins with an elaborate ritual for purification. (Leviticus 14) Once this is completed, the diseased person is rendered pure and able to be brought back into the camp.
We all know people who have endured the journey of illness to health. They often, during that illness, are isolated from regular life. They may be in hospital or re-hab or home bound as they journey from sickness back to health. Their return to “normal life” is often unmarked by any modern ritual. One of the gifts that Jewish tradition gives us is a blessing that can be said by the community to literally welcome someone back to life. The blessing is the “gomel” blessing. I have seen this used by congregations to celebrate the healing or cure or return to actibe life of a person who has been seriosuly ill, or recovered from a devestating injury. The blessing is based from a time when making a journey was dangerous and when a person arrived safe, a blessing was said to give thanks for the success of the journey. As many know, that journey from illness back to health can be no less perilous and certainly deserving of praise. The blessing: “Praised are You, Adoni our God, who rules the universe, granting favor even to the imperfect. Thank You God, for granting mercy to me”.
This is said by the individual. Then, the community or congregation responds: “May God who has been gracious to you continue to favor you with all that is good” (translation for Rabbis Manuel of Rabbinic Assembly)
Try this, why not discuss this with your clergy to see how your congregation or community can make this part of your routine. Having the community welcome back to life one of your members can enrich the life of the community and hold in love and compassion, that person who has successfully made that joruney from sickness back to health.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.