Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Developing Your Inner Kohen: Tazria Metzora

Zadok ., High Priest (c.-1040 - -998) - Genealogy
13:5 And on the seventh day, the kohen shall see him. And, behold! the lesion has remained the same in its appearance; the lesion has not spread on the skin. So the kohen shall quarantine him for seven days a second time.

What are we to make of these texts? One way is to ask: how is this relevant in every place and every time? In other words, now that the Temple is destroyed and there is no way to purify oneself, nor are the priests to do the rite, why do we care? Why do we still read this and torture rabbis by forcing them to preach on this?
One answer is found in the work of the early nineteenth century Hassidic Master, Mordecai Yosef Lainer of Izbica. Rabbi Lainer said that the priest, the Kohen, mentioned in the Torah is not only a Temple professional, but is the aspect of discernment that is present in each of us in potential. It is through service and devotion that we can actualize this potent ability of discernment which is called the Kohen.
One troubling thing in this passage is that the Rabbis believed the skin disease was a sign and symptom of the moral ailments of gossip and slander. While linking them together can be troubling to us, from our perspective today it suggests that when our “Kohen sensitivity” is truly discerning, we too will be able to recognize the difference between a physical, outer condition and what might be the injury or the hurt that is deeper within a person – and to understand how best to help. 
Thinking of what the Kohen does – identifying people in need, truly determining what is wrong, and seeking to remedy it, can lead us to radically transform the way that we live in the world. The French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas taught that most people are half asleep and half awake. That is, most of us proceed through life without actually paying attention to the ramifications of our actions. Thinking about the current conditions in the world, we can see how dangerous this can be – stand to close, go out without a mask, think only of yourself, and you can seriously injure people nowadays. The way I decide to act can have unintended consequences for other people who live in my city. In order to be fully awake I must attempt to be conscious to the fact that my actions – where I stand, what I wear, or what I buy, how I drive, how I vote - affect others (whom I do not know) in profound ways. Being awake is the first step to creating a just world.
When, stuck at home, I recognize there are others suffering even more severely than I am, I must train myself to let my Kohen reach out in aid. To see that illness and infection are physical conditions but are not essentially part of that other person - that he or she too is a human being and part of my community. When I do this, I am taking the first small step toward a more just and righteous world.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Ketubot 77b - The Disease Ra'atan

This is the passage from the Talmud, Ketubot 77b we will study:

מאי סימניה דלפן עיניה ודייבי נחיריה ואיתי ליה רירא מפומיה ורמו דידבי עילויה ומאי אסותיה אמר אביי פילא ולודנא גירדא דאגוזא וגירדא דאשפא וכליל מלכא ומתחלא דדיקלא סומקא ושליק להו בהדי הדדי ומעייל ליה לביתא דשישא ואי לא איכא ביתא דשישא מעייל ליה לביתא דשב לבני ואריחא
The Gemara inquires: What are the symptoms of ra’atan? His eyes water, his nose runs, drool comes out of his mouth, and flies rest upon him. The Gemara further inquires: And what is his cure to remove the insect found in his head, which is associated with this illness? Abaye said: One takes pila and ladanum [lodana], which are types of grasses; and the ground shell of a nut; and shavings of smoothed hides; and artemisia [kelil malka]; and the calyx of a red date palm. And one cooks them together and brings the patient into a marble house, i.e., one that is completely sealed. And if there is no marble house available, the one performing the treatment brings the patient into a house whose walls have the thickness of seven bricks and one small brick.
ונטיל ליה תלת מאה כסי על רישיה עד דרפיא ארעיתא דמוחיה וקרע למוחיה ומייתי ארבע טרפי דאסא ומדלי כל חד כרעא ומותיב חד ושקיל בצבתא וקלי ליה דאי לא הדר עילויה
And the one performing the treatment pours three hundred cups of this mixture on the patient’s head until his skull is soft, and then he tears open the patient’s skull to expose his brain, and brings four myrtle leaves and lifts up each time one foot of the insect that is found on the patient’s brain, and places one leaf under each foot of the insect so as to prevent it from attempting to cling to his brain when it is forcibly removed, and subsequently takes it with tweezers. And he then burns the insect, because if he does not burn it, it will return to him.
מכריז רבי יוחנן הזהרו מזבובי של בעלי ראתן רבי זירא לא הוה יתיב בזיקיה רבי אלעזר לא עייל באהליה רבי אמי ורבי אסי לא הוו אכלי מביעי דההיא מבואה ריב"ל מיכרך בהו ועסיק בתורה אמר (משלי ה, יט) אילת אהבים ויעלת חן אם חן מעלה על לומדיה אגוני לא מגנא
Rabbi Yoḥanan would announce: Be careful of the flies found on those afflicted with ra’atan, as they are carriers of the disease. Rabbi Zeira would not sit in a spot where the wind blew from the direction of someone afflicted with ra’atan. Rabbi Elazar would not enter the tent of one afflicted with ra’atan, and Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would not eat eggs from an alley in which someone afflicted with ra’atan lived. Conversely, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would attach himself to them and study Torah, saying as justification the verse: “The Torah is a loving hind and a graceful doe” (Proverbs 5:19). If it bestows grace on those who learn it, does it not protect them from illness?