By Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein
This is the double portion, rabbis always try to avoid. One colleague in particular, would plan to conveniently be on vacation whenever it showed up on the liturgical cycle. This is after all Tazria-Metzorah we are talking about, three full chapters of nothing but skin contusions, bodily fluids, and general ickiness. However, given the current pandemic we are suffering through, this year this section of Leviticus feels like home.
Watching the priests diagnose, isolate, and treat a bevy of diseases is almost relieving. Without the help of modern medicine, our ancestors had it under control. And, yet, they were very aware of what could happen if it wasn’t. Disease was rampant in Ancient Israel, just like it was in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. While צרעת (Tzaraat) the central diagnosis in the portion, is generally considered to be Hansen’s Disease, a chronic nerve condition that is not usually life threatening, I beg to differ. Two other skin conditions that have wiped out whole populations of human beings overnight and make Covid-19 look like child’s play come to mind, namely Small Pox and the Plague. There is a good reason why in the heart of our most sacred text is a long diatribe on how to avoid death and destruction.
We, in the Twenty-First Century, may have previously forgotten the dangers of infectious disease, but our ancestors certainly did not. And they put this particular text smack in the middle of the Torah to remind us of exactly of what we are up against. May we take strength in our collective memory of resilience and may we never take these particular two Torah portions lightly again. Stay safe, stay healthy.
Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein is the spiritual leader at Congregation Shir Shalom.