Torah Reading for Week of April 11 – April 17, 2010
“From Affliction to Healing”
by Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome ’05
AJRCA Associate Dean of Internships and Placement
This week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Mezorah, deals with leprosy and healing. The affliction of leprosy took control away from the individual, and it was only after sacrifices and tending from the priest could one’s autonomy be restored.
Rabbi Levi once said: “There are six organs, which serve a man. Three are under his control and three are not. The ones under his control are the mouth, the hands and the feet. The ones not under his control are the eyes, the ears and the nose. When the Holy One wishes it, even the ones under his control are no longer under his control.”
A Midrash from Sfat Emet quoted in Language of Truth by Art Green says the ways of the Blessed Holy One are not like those of man. Man cuts with a knife, but heals the wound with a bandage, while G-d heals with the very same thing by which he wounds. The wound itself is the healing. If you think about that one, you’ll appreciate its wisdom.
Let’s think about illness in general. There are truths within illness. What we believe is the curse of our current reality might in fact be the deep teaching that we need most. Isolation that comes with illness is a problem. We become identified by our illness and lose who we really are. When we return to the community- and in this week’s portion it was only after sacrifices and with the help of the priest- we can really heal. Ritual becomes very important. In this case, there were two birds used in the ceremony representing the end of an illness and the beginning of a new life.
Related to this, there is a prayer called Birkat HaGomel which is said after one returns to health: “Blessed are You, Adonai, Our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, who bestows good things on one in debt to You, and who has granted me all good.” Then the congregation responds “Amen. And may the One who has bestowed upon you good, continue to bestow upon you good. Let it be so.”
Getting back to leprosy, it was thought of as the punishment for Lashon Hara, gossiping. The high priest, Aaron, the Kohane Gadol, was expected to examine the afflicted people’s sores before and after the healing. Interestingly enough, when a priest was anointed, “The ear was touched with the blood, that it might be consecrated to hear the word of God; the hand, to perform the duties connected with the priesthood; and the foot, to walk the path of righteousness.”
But why here with blood? Let’s think of Egypt and the doorposts. Blood symbolized both life and death- the death of the firstborn and the saving of the lives of the Jewish babies. The purification process of the lepers allowed the priest to mark the death of the illness along with the spiritual rebirth of the person.
Healing is much more than skin deep. Survivors often have a hard time readjusting to good health, yet everyone in the hospital just wants to go home. What does this all have to do with us today, when leprosy is no longer a problem? A modern commentator suggests that the Torah is really talking about skin-deep diseases- warning us against the sin of superficiality. We should judge people not by what they show on the outside- big cars, houses, etc, but what lies buried deep inside. True accomplishments come from our depths, our guts and our hearts.
And may the One who has bestowed on us good, continue to bestow on us not only good, but the ability to heal ourselves and others. Amen.