April 23, 2020
Tazriya-Metzora offers an ancient take on quarantine to isolate victims of plague, and then to reinitiate them into the collective fold, once healed. We have read this parsha considering afflictions of mind and spirit, acknowledging the ways in which our psychic troubles isolate us, or considering the wisdom in separating ourselves to calm whatever eruptions we suffer. But this year the pshat speaks for itself – the most literal level on which we can read the text; it’s not a metaphorical plague. And, in the past, we have looked at the leper as marginal, but this year we are all barred from society as we know it, going a little stir-crazy as we wait for whatever the ritual of re-entry will be. Our double Torah portion is careful to catalogue symptoms of affliction, strict in enforcing the fullest duration of containment, and offering processes of social re-entry that honour transformation – all so very relevant to the challenges we face in this moment. Still, my imagination is drawn to the actual duration of the leper’s isolation. How did he cope?
Perhaps we gain insight into the ancient sufferer through our own experience; how are we coping?
Above all else, I hear, over and over, expressions of gratitude for community and I realize that amidst my own fears and feelings of impotence, I derive comfort and inspiration from you, from our gatherings, public and private, and from the outreach of community, official and personal. The one thing we know about the Biblical isolates is that they were not abandoned. The priests of Leviticus checked in on those in confinement at regular intervals, performing intermediate rituals of sacrifice – their technology for drawing, virtually, near. Being Jewish is a tradition of belonging, belonging to a community, to something greater than ourselves, to an ancient story uncanny in its human relevance. This affirmation won’t eliminate our suffering, but it reminds us of the enduring resources available to us in the touchstone of Torah, and in the mitzvot we perform for one another.
Or Shalom continues to listen carefully to the needs articulated during our quarantine, and we maintain a stance of flexibility so that we can be supple in changing the shape of our container to offer affective support. In addition to the conversion of existing programs to virtual spaces, please consider the range of our new offerings, choosing solace and companionship in the ways that resonate for you.
Monday and Friday mornings are for writing our way through Covid. On Sunday evenings you can join our new weekday minyan and on Friday afternoons you can immerse in Psalms for healing. This Sunday night we offer song-chant and visual imagery for contemplation. Tuesday brings a child and youth art studio program – a collage journey through the Sefirot. Every Wednesday morning I read a story to our children. Our parenting support group will begin meeting on Wednesday evenings in May. Gemilut Chesed’s new and relevant services are available as needed, as is redistribution of the funds you have donated to help one another. And don’t forget that my office has gone virtual too. Our pastoral conversations are precious.
Thank you all for being a community of priests, as we check in on one another in isolation, drawing near as we are able.