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Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת תזריע-מצורע, תש״פ

Parshat Tazria-M'tzora, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

Gradual, Intentional Healing

It took me a long time to send Jackquie information for the May calendar. I wanted so badly to write in Shabbat services on Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the synagogue. I wanted so badly to schedule our Shavuot celebration for all night long on May 28, with food and drink to welcome each other’s presence once again. But of course, I know, we are not there yet. Even if Louisiana’s restrictions are lifted for May in the next few days, we are not yet a community free from COVID-19; even looking towards the end of next month, there is a good chance that gathering in groups will not be safe or compassionate for the members of our community who are at risk.

Late last night, I finally sent the month’s calendar to Jackquie, with all events scheduled online, for now. And when I woke up this morning to study our parashah, Tazria-Metzora, I found profound wisdom in this text filled with isolation and medical testing and bodily fluid for the very first time. Parashat Tazria speaks mainly of the isolation one must undergo when she is afflicted with a skin ailment known as tzara’at. When she first shows symptoms, she must be tested by a priest, who examines the color and shape of her bruises and rashes. If she is well, she is proclaimed tahor, clean. If she is doubtfully ill, she is isolated for seven days, and then perhaps even another seven days, and then she is tested again. If she is clearly ill, she is proclaimed tamei, unclean, and is unable to participate in Jewish ritual life. Yes, isolation, testing, and a general awareness about the communal dangers of contagion are parallel to today’s situation, but what catches my attention the most is the process the Biblical community takes to let the affected person back into society.

Parashat Metzora, the second in our double parashah, makes it clear that the community is not ready for full participation of the afflicted until there is no doubt the afflicted is well. And when that person is well, she returns to the community in carefully thought out stages that acknowledge the great personal changes that have been made during the time of her captivity.When the priest has decided that the afflicted person is well and has tested her as such, the priest guides her through a sacrificial ritual. She then immerses, a tradition in Judaism that represents a sort of spiritual rebirth, and even then, she comes back into the camp in partial isolation for the next seven days. Finally, at the end of those seven days, she brings her own sacrifice in public celebration of and gratitude for her new freedom.

In our community right now, all of us, even those of us who may not show symptoms, are in that doubtful tamei state of one who is afflicted with COVID-19. Until medical experts have deemed that we are safe, just as a priest must give the okay to the person formerly afflicted with tzara’at, we perform our duty of staying in our homes as much as we can until that point in time. And as we look towards the future, when restrictions are loosened, we cannot take our new world of increasing freedom for granted. Just like the person who has been tameh from tzara’at, our identities have been changed from living in this world of distance and worry for so long. Just like the metzora, both practically and emotionally, we will not be able to re-enter our world all at once.

Rather, I believe that with each step we start taking towards the freedom we once enjoyed, we must practice some sort of celebratory ritual. Whether it is a special meal with those we have not been able to see or a donation to our favorite charity or a journal entry, with every restriction loosened, we have the opportunity to celebrate each of those moments with real intention. On the day we can return to the dog park, let us ask ourselves how we each have changed personally during our time at home. On the day we can get that long-awaited haircut, let us observe what is so different about the world we are reentering. And on that first day back at Agudath Achim, as a community, let us acknowledge the gratitude we hold for living through this, for having passed the time connecting over the phone with long-lost friends, reading books, creating art, or improving our gardens.

At this moment in time, I am dreaming about the future - envisioning that eventually, we will start being able to trickle back into the synagogue, first with face masks and six feet apart, and then, some day, with the same physical closeness we were able to enjoy just a couple of months ago. At that point in time, I envision, we will have a big celebration of each other’s company, and of course, of each other’s fine baking and cooking expertise. Right now is difficult, really difficult, and yet, I appreciate that we are maintaining this community who will be so vital to supporting each other in our eventual transition back to a new sort of normal. Although that moment is not now, when we get there, let us be as deliberate as the Torah is in its treatment of recovery from tzara’at, celebrating and supporting each other through our gradual healing. Shabbat Shalom.