Torah Reading for Week of April 22-28, 2012
“Illness: A Message from G-d?”
By Rabbi Avivah W. Erlick, ‘11
When I work as a hospital chaplain, I look up a patient’s diagnosis and age before I meet them. It gives me a starting point for our conversation. Strangely, though, it sometimes tells me what they are like as people. Men in their 30s through 50s with heart troubles, for example, tend to be independent business owners who never let themselves take a day off. They will sit in their hospital beds, their chests hooked up to medical devices, and tap away at their laptop computers, afraid to miss even an hour of potential work time. Women in their 50s through 70s with pneumonia, on the other hand, often are caregivers to members of their immediate family. They will speak at length about their family members’ problems, and how they commit all their time and energy to assisting them, yet feel powerless to truly help.
When I ask folks if they know why they are sick, they often have no answer. Illness comes from nowhere, they say, and interferes with your plans. When can they break free of their hospitalization and return to their lives?
Perhaps Miriam felt the same when she contracted a terrible case of tzara’at. Tzara’at looked like an eerie skin disease; it turned Miriam “white as snow,” we learn in the Book of Numbers. Her illness was not random, however; it was a punishment from G-d for gossiping about her brother, Moses. Moses, however, held no grudges, begging G-d to cure her by intoning the mantra, “El Na, Refah Na La” (Please, G-d, heal her. Please!).
This week’s parsha, Tazria-Metzora, is a double-dose of Levitical rules about the care and treatment of tzara’at, as well as other conditions that seem to blur the lines between the physical and emotional/spiritual worlds.
While Western medicine often takes the approach that illness is something to be tackled and cured, a random ailment with no particular connection between body and soul, Tazria-Metzora takes a different tack. The connection is not just detectable, it’s obvious. We can, and do, bring on our own illnesses by our behaviors. Not on purpose; not every time; and, like Moses, it is never appropriate to blame the ill for what they are doing to themselves, even when we see it clearly and they do not.
This week is also the third between Passover and Shavuot. We are halfway through the Omer Count, permuting the aspects of the Sefirah (G-d-aspect) of Tiferet (Harmony). Tiferet, which is pictured at the heart, teaches the middle course. Avraham Ya’akov Finkel in his book, In My Flesh I See God, explains this middle road well:
“Generosity is the happy medium between stinginess and wastefulness; courage, between recklessness and cowardice; dignity, between pridefulness and boorishness. Friendliness … between aggressiveness and submissiveness, humility … between arrogance and self-abasement; contentedness, between greed and laziness; and goodheartedness … between meanness and extravagance.”
Everything in moderation, as they say. No achievement and no helping are worth losing our lives. This is not G-d’s will for us. Our health can be the barometer.