A Modern Pandemic, Second Chances, and Light
This week's Torah Portion is Tazria-Metzora, and it's a Parsha we love to hate, universally dreaded by all Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. It's full of boils, fungal infections, rashes, sores, sprouting hair, bodily emissions, and other health conditions, really gross stuff. In the Torah, all of these physical conditions make a person temporarily unfit to be close to God. According to the Torah, the person afflicted with Tzara'at (Tzara'at, often mistranslated as leprosy, is a supra-natural plague, which can afflict people as well as their clothes or homes), must be examined by the priest. If they do have Tzara'at, they must leave the camp and be isolated and wait seven days. On the seventh day, a priest will examine the afflicted person, and if their condition has not changed, they will be isolated for another seven days. After another seven days, if the person's health is better, the priest has them make an offering to God, a korban, which means to draw near.. The person is now healed and can once again connect with God and return to the community.
In this Torah portion, the priests are acting as the healthcare providers for their community. The separation and the rituals laid out in the Torah are to help the afflicted person restore their closeness to God and, more importantly, the separation is designed to protect the community from a contagious illness. Kind of like an early prevention method for a pandemic.
Today is also Rosh Hodesh Iyar, the new Jewish month of Iyar. The Hebrew word Iyar means light and radiance. The Kabbalist (Jewish mystics) see Iyar as a month of healing, creating an acronym from the Hebrew phrase אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ׃ I am the God who heals you (Exodus 15:26).
During the month of Iyar, we also celebrate Pesach Sheni (Second Passover) creating an opportunity for those who could not celebrate the holiday to have a second chance. Many see the month of Iyar as a month of second chances to make up for past mistakes and missed opportunities.
Today we are experiencing an actual pandemic where we have to separate ourselves from our communities to keep each other safe. We also have to listen to our healthcare providers who will determine when it is safe for us to return to our communities.
As I mentioned earlier, the month Iyar is a month for second chances and missed opportunities. Many of us are spending a lot of time reflecting on our missed opportunities before quarantine. I see this as a reminder to not take life for granted and to be open to the possibilities and opportunities that are offered to us. Iyar also means light and radiance. May our light shine brightly. May our light shine today and throughout the rest of the month of Iyar, or at least until the end of this pandemic when we can all be together again.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson received ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 2018. She has served in the United States Army as a Military Police person with a specialty in Military Police Investigations, specializing in cases involving child abuse and domestic violence. Rabbi Sandra uses her rabbinic training to bring Judaism to where people already are in their lives. As a rabbinical student Rabbi Sandra received a prestigious grant to lead Shabbat services for unaffiliated Jews in a vegan cafe. She also received a grant to launch her podcast Minutes of Torah. Her vision as a Rabbi is to help build a more inclusive Jewish community where all who want to come are welcomed, diversity is embraced and we can come together to learn and to pray.