Thursday, April 19, 2018

Now The Shore-Lights Beckon, Yeah There's A Price For Being Free ( John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Lost Sailor")

          The Middle East was a busy place this week. Israel celebrated its 70thyear of being an independent country. Palestinians marked the day with what is known as Nakba – The Catastrophe. The leader of nearby Syria, Bashir Al Assad used chemical weapons upon his own people yet again.  England, France and the United States, despite Russian pressure to ignore Assad’s use of chemical weapons, bombed several sights as a warning that the West would not tolerate a dictator’s use of chemical weapons upon his own people. As our children watched the news, read the Tweets, I was asked why a leader would want to kill his/her own people, let alone kill them with an illegal weapon. For them, this was the first time that they paid attention enough to follow the news and ask the question. I reminded them that this was not the first time, and sadly it won’t be the last. In a recent speech to the European Parliament warned of the rising fascism with “antidemocratic and illiberal ideas, the deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom.” (NY Times Editorial Board April 18,2018). Macron didn’t mention anyone nor any country by name: not Hungary, not Poland, not Russia, not Turkey, nor any leader enthralled with strong armed dictators nor the populist movement that these types of leaders claim to represent. What seemed so fascinating was the way Macron spoke about it, an impurity that infects the soul of individuals, leaders and nations.
This week we combine two Parshiot: Tazriah and Metzorah. God tells Moshe the laws of purity and impurity as it relates to birth. God instructs Moshe about the appropriate korbanot (sacrifices) that a mother should make as she re-enters the camp. God also instructs Moshe about Tza'arat, or for lack of a good translation; leprosy. Throughout the rest of Tazria and Metzora, we are told all about Tzaarat. We are told what it is. We are told how it is diagnosed. We are told how it is treated. We are told how it spreads. We are told what to do in case it spreads. Basically, Tazriah is a type of Tza'arat, a type of skin ailment which is commonly thought of as leprosy. However this skin ailment is not treated by the resident dermatologist. Even if they had dermatologists in the Torah, we would not bring someone suffering from Tazriah to the dermatologists. Why? The skin ailment was not a symptom of any type of physical malady. Since the person with the skin ailment appears before the Priest, the Kohen, we know that the skin condition must be spiritual malady and not a physical one. Adam Ki Yiheyeh V'Or B'Saro S'Eit O Sapachat O Va'Heret V'Hayah V; Or B'Saroh L'Negah Tzara'at V'Huvah El Aharon H'Kohen O el Achad Mi'Banav Ha'KohanimIf a person will have on the sin of his flesh a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration and it will become a scaly affliction on the skin of his flesh; he shall be brought to Aaron the Kohen, or to one of his sons the Kohanim(Lev. 13:2-3). The rest of the Parsha teaches us the appropriate protocol for treatment. The Kohen checks again to determine if that person has become ritually impure. If so, they must be sent out of the camp in order to avoid the risk of the skin ailment spreading to others. The quarantine would last for seven days. Afterwards, the Priest would check again, if there was no contamination the person was brought back into the camp, However if the contamination remained, then the quarantine would continue for another seven days. Then the process would begin all over again. We also learn that if this contamination spread to the clothes or vessels; then everything would be burned and destroyed.
In the Talmudic Tractate of Arichin, which primarily focuses upon the laws of valuations; we learn that the skin ailment is a punishment for the sins of bloodshed, false oaths, sexual immorality, pride, robbery, and selfishness (Arichin 16a). All of these physical occurrences are accompanied by a spiritual component. These occurrences all demonstrate the offender's failure to empathize with the needs of others. It is fascinating to think that in an ideal community, we are not only concerned with our own well-being. We should also be concerned about others as well. Our failure to do so leads to a spiritual sickness including: petty jealousy, alienation, and a further erosion of community and society. All of which diminish the holiness within the individual and the holiness within the community. By removing the contaminated offender from the community two positive results occur. First the welfare, integrity and holiness of the community is spared from spiritual sickness. This is the primary concern since we fear that God will cease dwelling in a community that becomes spiritually sickened or spiritually dysfunctional. The second positive result is that the contaminated offender has experienced the isolation and concern from others. This is exactly what he/she wrought upon the community with such behavior.
            Certainly we can understand that power be a source of impurity. When leaders and their political parties focus so much on obtaining power and do everything possible to remain in power; leaders, political parties, and a society’s values become corrupt. That corruption leads to cynicism which eventually destroys the purpose of power: a tool, a mechanism to help those who need help, bring relief to those in need, and bring those who are alienated and in the dark back into the light.  The Torah reminds us that our spiritual shortcomings can also affect our physical well-being.  Our psychological well-being, our spiritual well-being, and our physical well-being, according to Tazriah/Metzorah must reflect life. Just as important, we need to have life affirming rituals that we can engage in when we are confronted with things that threat our life affirming existence. Each act of kindness reaffirms the idea that freedom and democracy are the only viable means by which one can to strive towards Kedushah (holiness) and Chesed (kindness).

Rav Yitz

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