Parshat Metzora

Torah Reading for the week of March 30 – April 5, 2014

“Metzora: The Essentiality of Teamwork”
By Rabbi Rochelle Robins, Dean of the Chaplaincy School and Director of Clinical Pastoral Education


Do we always know when it’s a personal and professional liability not to receive appropriate guidance from our teachers and peers? Do we know when to defer to the opinions and direction of others? We aren’t born knowing how to work in team. While elements of teamwork come naturally to some of us, working with others to bring an outcome to fruition requires learned skill. Does the priest who assesses and intervenes on behalf of the community receive consultation from more experienced priests and other capable individuals? 

“The kohen shall go outside the camp, and the kohen shall look, and behold, if the lesion of tzaraat has healed in the afflicted person (14:3).”

Why is Kohen mentioned twice in this verse?

The Kohen, through the God given designation of the priesthood is capable and responsible to assess and intervene on behalf of the individual and the community. Yet even the most skilled, trained, and intuitive experts are capable of making mistakes. In fact, studies of industrial practices continue to explore the possibility that the person who is highly confident, skilled, and trained might be more likely to err than the less experienced individual. While the less experienced person might lack confidence, he/she may be more likely to question his/her abilities, rely on assistance, and therefore stay on top of protocol and procedure to insure accuracy and success.

The thorough detail in the book of Vayikra regarding ritual and practice leaves evidence of the importance of priestly quality control. This is recorded earlier in the book of Vayikra in the complex scenario of Nadav and Avihu.  As commentaries suggest, they are consumed by a strange fire prospectively due to cultic malpractice (Vayikra 10:1-5). Positions of power demand more rather than less accountability in work practices.

In professional spiritual care terms, one possible reason as to why the word Kohen is written twice in verse 14:3, is to clarify that the priest is accountable for both initial assessment and the follow up plan of care. In spiritual care practices, assessment leads to a plan of care and follow up within a defined standards, practice, and professional outcomes on behalf of those whom we serve.

In last week’s parsha, we explored the benefits and tensions in receiving assistance from helping hands during times of illness and isolation. The experience of quarantine in illness or imbalance provides opportunity for healing, yet it also disempowers us from our customary functioning. During this week’s parsha, and in examining our chosen verse in particular, we are given the chance to inquire about the responsibility of the healer. The priest is not only present to observe; the priest is responsible to determine necessary outcomes on behalf of the afflicted.

This analysis may appear quite basic in concept, however, the implementation of determining and actualizing appropriate interventions for given situations can prove challenging. We imagine the kohen, an educated and authorized individual to be infallible, without questions, never second-guessing choices, and automatically commanding our respect and confidence. Quarantine and isolation are difficult for the afflicted. The demand of serving as expert and healer is also isolating and possibly an affliction in and of itself. There are liabilities for the caregiver; there are risks when serving in the role of practitioner and spiritual leader. 

Both the afflicted and the priest share an experience that is connected to community yet isolated from it. The one receiving care is vulnerable to the power of the caregiver. The caregiver, the authoritative expert, is also susceptible to over-extension, error, and the isolation caused by arrogance. Yet both the caregiver and the receiver of care have a great deal to gain from the relationship. While we often contemplate the circumstance of the sick person in these texts, we rarely ponder the dangers of serving as a priest outside of the basic risk of contracting physical illness. The text leaves little indication that there is anything to consider about the priest’s own psycho-social-spiritual well-being.

This parsha, in its accentuation of the role and responsibilities of the priest, reminds us of the importance of safeguarding our own practices through proper consultation and teamwork.

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