Torah Reading for Week of April 11-17, 2021
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ’07
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
In this week’s double parashot, we continue to explore the discussion of the laws of tumah v’taharah, ritual impurity and purity. Today, how do we relate to the concept of impurity in a time of pandemic? Who among us has not experienced some element of impurity? Assisting a family member who has become ill or mourning one who has died. Entering an enclosed space to buy groceries or to pick up a prescription. Or braving an airplane journey to see grandchildren. Perhaps, we have transmitted the COVID 19 virus without even knowing it. Perhaps, we have encountered the virus and been spared its virulent nature. How do we overcome our personal and collective impurity?
In Biblical times, when tzaraat/the skin condition indicating impurity becomes visible, a person is diagnosed by a priest and sent into quarantine. The person must dwell outside the camp or city until they are healed. A priest purifies them with an elaborate ritual that signifies that they are healed and they are then brought back into the camp. Today, we use quarantine as well, but there is no sacred ritual that accompanies healing or the escape from impurity. Perhaps, someone could say Gomel; our liturgical prayer for escaping from danger. Perhaps, someone could immerse in a mikvah, the ritual bath to accompany the change in status from impure to pure. Yet, there is no individual or collective ritual that we have established to accompany an escape from our modern day tzaraat plague. We have no collective ritual yet established that sanctifies that passage.
Moreover, the Bible discusses how a building can become contaminated with tzaraat/a creeping mold of sorts. If it cannot be cleansed, then it must be destroyed. Today, we purify hospitals, by setting aside wings for COVID patients. We quarantine assisted living facilities and nursing homes and keep family and visitors from entering. We establish elaborate rules to keep ourselves safe. Some people remove their elder family members from remaining in these facilities, so that they can see them and visit with them. However, we have not found a way to keep our institutions safe from contamination and spread.
While we are vaccinating, and wearing masks, and washing our hands, and physically distancing ourselves in the best of circumstances to control this tzaraat, we are lacking any kind of spiritual containment of the plague of isolation, loneliness, and trauma that are accompanying the physical manifestation of the virus. We have clergy members coming up with prayers. We have official leaders coming up with protocols that change constantly. Yet, we do not have a series of rituals that provide spiritual comfort for our collective contamination.
Taking our lead from the Biblical injunctions against the mysterious tzaraat affliction, we need to become the priests who offer rituals that bring us back into community. We need to transform the buildings that housed the pandemic from places of illness to places of wellness. Our spiritual leaders need to come up with memorials for those who have died; our civic leaders need to come up with regulations that protect those who have survived. We need to treat those who have suffered the trauma of loss as well as the trauma of vulnerability and fear that may not go away quickly. We all must figure out a way to transform ourselves and our world, so that this pandemic will result in an era of newly found purity of spirit and a renewal of our resilience in the face of harm. Let the Brachah of Gomel prevail— may our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving guide us through this period. May we find mikvahs for souls.
Baruch ata Adoshem, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-gomel l’chayavim tovot she-g’malani kol tov.
Blessed are You, Adoshem, our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.
After the recitation of this blessing, the congregation responds:
Mi she-g’malcha kol tov, hu yi-g’malcha kol tov selah.
May the one who rewarded you with all goodness reward you with all goodness for ever.