Parshat Metzora

Torah Reading for Week of April 3-9, 2011

“Don’t Underestimate Metzora”
By Judy Aronson, AJRCA Professor of Jewish Education

This year we give Parshat Metzora its own Shabbat.  For me personally, it has provided a message about the relevance of Torah in my life.  Uncomfortably, this week we read about skin afflictions and pollution.  Seymour Rossel in The Torah Portion-by-Portion says, “Modern folk sometimes say that the parashah of Metzora has few lessons to teach us for our everyday lives.”

Not for me, not this year.

Recently, I have spent considerable time in a great hospital.  Its website says “Cedars-Sinai is known for providing the highest quality patient care that modern medicine has to offer.  Our dedication to excellence, compassion and innovation is rooted in the Judaic tradition and its devotion to the art and science of healing…”.

Cedars confirms that it is part of a chain of inherited Jewish wisdom and ministering to the sick.

So why am I anxious? Bikkur Cholim is a mitzvah.  But observing infection is hard for me to accept when it is plaguing my cousin Georgia. She has had two operations on her spine and neck recently.  Her recovery seemed promising until something that I will call “metzora” erupted around her incision.  No one knows where it came from since she was in rehab for several days.  Back she went to the hospital.

Each time I visit, I pass signs that say, “At Cedars-Sinai, zero is the greatest number.”  Their annual report informs us “….It is not just a slogan — it’s a call to action.  The Medical Center has launched an extensive campaign to eliminate hospital-acquired infections that involves virtually everyone who comes through its doors.”  I personally agree with the “importance of hand hygiene” and follow the protocol of using the dispensers of “Purell” a lot.

Still, somehow, somewhere, Georgia’s wound became infected with staph.  I have not suggested to her that we try any Biblical treatments.  I am simply grateful that modern medicine presents alternative therapies.  To me, her doctors and nurses are like kohanim performing rituals in their desire to heal her.

In Metzora, I read with awe and respect about the attention our people have paid to the sick for millennia.  What they did then may seem primitive today, but it was a start.  In years to come, our therapies may cause derision.

Making Metzora even more relevant, Georgia lives in a low-income apartment house built by Congregation Beth Am.  For the past few years, when it rained, water would leak down her walls.  A “tzaarat” appeared that had a strange odor and made her bedroom unusable.  Although I know that mold is always in the air and around us, I’ve been fearful that it would “pollute” her wonderful living space. The management has tried its best to fix the problem to no avail.

It rained when Georgia was in the hospital.  But she got a phone call with good news.  After many attempts, it seems that a wonderful handyman has at last found and stopped the leak.  We are not ready to “set the live bird free outside the city in the open country (to) make expiation for the house”, but perhaps we will invent some ritual of purification after the next rain storm.

You may think I am making light of our sacred text.  But I write this with tears in my eyes because I am grateful to HaShem for eternal words that speak to me about difficult and painful subjects.  And I pray that the One Who gives us immeasurable blessings provide Georgia with a refuah shlaimah.

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