D’var Torah for M’tzora
April 8, 2011
The Torah portion which Emily chanted so beautifully is foreign to our ears. Even if one is fluent in biblical Hebrew, the concepts come from a thought world so different from our own. The kohen, the priest, notices a skin infection, bodily discharge, fungus, or mold and declares the individual, garment, or home to be impure. The priest then segregates the person from the community until the infection disappears. Then, he prescribes a ritual for re-entry into the community. The priest is not a medicine man. What can the holy man do? “The priest performs no magic whatsoever. He waves no incense at the affliction nor does he utter an incantation. He does not promise healing. He cannot make the bad stuff go away. Medicine is not the art he practices.”
“Contemporary readers of Leviticus have more advanced science at our disposal. That science, contrary to the Torah, has no room in it for divine intervention in the natural order of sickness and health and no place either for the kind of moral calculus that the rabbis exhibited in linking tsaraat (the skin disease that afflicts the metsora) to gossip. Today, we consult dermatologists, take medication, and apply salves and ointments. Yet, there is much today that doctors cannot cure. Even though science knows much, in reality, there are many areas in which the doctor is less effective than the priest.
The priest did have the ability to breakdown the barriers between the patient and his community. According to this Torah reading, the priest did five things to help reintegrate the patient to his family, friends, and clan:
1. He listens carefully to the victim’s report and decides if further action is required.
2. He sees whether infection has run its course.
3. He pronounces the afflicted person, garment, or home pure or impure.
4. He imposes or lifts quarantines on persons, garments, and dwellings, and
5. He orders destruction of homes and garments that cannot be freed of impurity.
Throughout the Torah, we are commanded to be a kingdom of priest and a holy people. One way for us to emulate the priests was to learn from them how to deal with those who are ill and infirm. Perhaps we can learn from the kohanim how to better approach those who are ill. After all, there is an almost invisible line between health and illness.
We can learn to listen to those who are ill. It is always better to listen during a visit than to talk. Allow those who are infirm to speak to us. We can see, through the patient’s body language, how the person really feels. We pronounce our concern for patient. We lift whatever quarantine existed for the patient. If the patient does not want further visitors, we impose quarantine. Lastly, we destroy any and all stereotypes or misconceptions we have about the patient’s illness. Through these five simple actions, we encourage the patient and aide the healing process. We welcome the patient back to community and lift any stigma from the illness or disease the patient suffered. So we can learn from the priests to listen, see, pronounce, lift, and destroy stereotypes. In this way, when we visit the sick and fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim, we are doing the work of modern day priests.
May we learn from this Torah reading and act upon it when we are able.
Amen and Shabbat shalom