By Helen Weinstein
Upon reading the synopses of the double Torah portion for this week, Tazria-Metzora, my first reaction was one of horror! What have I done? How can I possibly create meaningful commentary based on a description of bodily fluids and leprosy? As I read and studied the text, however, I realized that there is more to this than a cursory reading would suggest.
To begin with, the names of the two parshiot set up an interesting contrast. Tazria means “to conceive” beginning with one of life’s greatest joys, the birth of a baby. Compare this to Metzora which refers to a serious skin condition, typically identified as leprosy. What do they have in common? They both focus on separation and renewal. The new mother is instructed to stay separate for a specific period of time while the person suffering from leprosy is physically isolated from their community until declared free of contagion by a priest. Both eventually achieve reconnection, healing, and renewal.
During this past year most of us have experienced separation from our friends and loved ones, our community, our jobs and support systems. Appointments were cancelled, stores and restaurants were closed, life cycle events were postponed. For many this separation and prolonged isolation contributed to heightened anxiety, soaring blood pressure, deep depression and fear.
So where is the healing? Where is the renewal? At our core, we humans are very resilient, able to function in the face of adversity. Am I proposing that every cloud has the proverbial “silver lining?” I refuse to be that naïve. Not with over half a million Americans having succumbed to the COVID 19 virus and countless more still suffering “long haul” debilitating symptoms. Yet for me, and I suspect for many others, this year has provided a rare opportunity for reflection and exploration.
I have developed a greater appreciation of the people close to me, not only family and friends but neighbors, some of whom I barely knew, who have become valued acquaintances as we wave to each other and share greetings from a safe distance. I have gained a deeper awareness of the blessings of adequate food, secure shelter, and the resources to acquire the necessities and niceties of life. At the same time, I have become increasingly mindful of how many among us do not share these blessings due to loss of income, health disparities, social isolation, food insecurities, and racial injustices. “Paying it forward” has taken on new meaning, one that I hope will not be forgotten and in fact will increase once “normalcy” returns. Although accentuated by the pandemic, these issues are not new and will not magically disappear once this crisis is over.
Many of us have used this time to acquire new hobbies or learn new skills. Being personally isolated has forced us to rely more and more on technology for classes, religious services, concerts, and those precious contacts with children and grandchildren. Without Zoom and other digital platforms, simchas and other social gatherings would not have been able to include friends and family members for whom in-person attendance would have been impossible.
Thanks to vaccines, we are making progress. More people are venturing out to grocery stores instead of using Instacart, attending in-person services instead of live-streaming, and, best of all, welcoming guests for Shabbat dinner as we did for the first time last week. But return to normalcy is slow and many are still resistant. If we have learned anything from the experiences of this past year, I hope it will be how much we need to rely on one another and how much stronger we are when linked to a supportive community.
The giant redwoods of California are the tallest trees on earth and can grow to 400 feet high and 18-20 feet in diameter. Remarkably, their roots are only six feet deep. One can’t help but wonder—how do they stand in the face of wind, rain and storms? The answer is that under the surface the roots are not individual but are all intertwined, linked as though holding hands under the ground. The redwoods do not survive alone but need each other to thrive.
And so do we.
Helen Weinstein is the retired Coordinator of the Fetal Alcohol Program of the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Past President of Congregation B’nai Shalom.