Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59) Our Contemporary Affliction

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This Shabbat we meet one of the more challenging portions in Torah. Indeed, this week’s portion and next week’s portion, which at times are linked as a double portion, are often the bane of bar and bat Mitzvah students. How do we make a D’var Torah on skin eruptions and the like? No doubt, this will come up a lot over the next few weeks Torah study classes. But the genius of Torah is that we, each week, are given the invitation to have the text “speak to us”.
In an introductory essay on this portion, Rabbi Gunther Plaut (z’l) discusses the nature of the disease associated with tza’ra’at. He notes that it emerges gradually, and the patient often experiences a “loss of sensitivity to pain”. Now, let’s let this text speak to us and reflect on the society in which we are living. We look at a society in which civility has almost disappeared, where intolerance is tolerated, and at times praised. Antisemitism is on the rise and some of the basic freedoms that many of us marched for fifty years ago, are now being destroyed, as we are seeing in the challenges to a woman’s right to have a say over her own body. Is our tza’ra’at a disease of modern life, an affliction that has produced unusual changes in society, gradually over time and that has numbed the public to its danger?
Our generation has witnessed and participated in so much social change. Now, as we age, many of us ask each other “how did we get here?”. How strange that this week people of all backgrounds came together to watch an eclipse, but immediately forgot that we are all inter-related and inter-connected on this small blue planet. How many of us have lost friends or have had strained relationships because of this modern tza’ra’at? There is a disease, an affliction that has infected our world and our challenge is to see how we can avoid getting infected. There is no masking or social distancing and certainly no vaccine, save an injection of common sense. With everyone running to and hiding in their own silos, legitimate dialogue between people who may disagree over an issue (or issues) has ceased to be relevant. What we must try and do is run counter to these trends. Hard as it may be, let us try to remember the teaching of our tradition which speaks to the dignity of each person, even if we do not agree. And this is getting harder!
We stand as a social order infected by this disease of mistrust, misinformation, and fear. So, let’s also be reminded of the following words from Heschel, written years ago, but the meaning of which rings ever so true today. “The central problem of this generation is emptiness in the heart. The decreased sensitivity to the imponderable quality of the spirit, the collapse of communication between the realm of tradition and the inner world of the individual. The central problem is that we do not now how to think, how to pray, or how to cry, or how to resist the deceptions of the silent persuaders. There is no community of those who worry about integrity.” (“Between God and Man”. P.251)
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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