Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Battling Today's Blights

There are a number of Torah portions that are combined during the year depending on the needs of the calendar. This Shabbat we have such a combined portion, Tazria-Metzora. I think the rabbis may have particularly planned to put these two together because they spend a lot of time dealing with skin diseases and outbreaks of mold or some kind of infection in objects and houses. Better to get this all done in one week must have been part of the consideration for which two readings to combine. But even though these readings aren't perhaps the most exciting or about the most appealing subject, I think there is still a great lesson in them. The Torah and the rabbis saw in these outbreaks (the skin one is usually called leprosy but the Torah is probably describing something different here) a physical manifestation of a moral or religious short-coming. The house, the garment, the person, who became infected became so because something was wrong with what they had done or what they were used for, etc. The need to eradicate the outbreak was as much a health concern as it was a spiritual concern then. While I do not believe that people get rashes for gossiping or other moral failings, nevertheless I think there is something to making a connection between the physical and spiritual/moral/emotional worlds. We should be attuned to the ways in which our beliefs, our spiritual and moral health guide us in how we take care of and use our bodies and how we otherwise function in the world. And more than that, these portions should call on us to have concern for our brothers and sisters in need. The person who is homeless, the person in need of a job, the person who is actually ill - these are all people who are plagued with difficulties that no doubt will impact on their inner lives. Not that we should dare think they are being punished, we should still respond to their needs and do what we can to help them. I think we can reasonably see motivation to do that for others in these Torah portions. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

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