Quarantine: A Poetic Interpretation of Leviticus 13

March 23, 2020Cantor Abbe Lyons

As quarantines and lockdowns spread, the descriptions of tzara-at in Leviticus 13 (Parashat Tazria/M'tzora) come to mind. Tzara-at refers to a scaly skin affliction that caused people to sent "outside of the camp" into quarantine so they wouldn't spread tzara-at to others.

m'tzora, a person with tzara-at, would be examined by the priest to determine whether they could wait for a recheck in seven days or actually had to go into isolation until they were healed. Even after they were pronounced healthy, they had to wash thoroughly before returning to the community.

The Divine names in the last sentence are found in the Gevurot, the second blessing of the Amidah, and the Morning Blessings (nissim b'chol yom, for daily miracles). 

Vast swaths of Leviticus come into new focus
Being checked by the priest if you’re symptomatic
Getting a recheck in 7 days
Being self-quarantined outside the camp
Away from the public spaces
Social distancing

And even when it’s time to re-enter,
Washing body and clothes
Making an offering
Of thanksgiving

Maybe tzara-at really was a virus
With skin lesions and hairs turning white
Maybe these measures quarantine was successful
In stemming the tide
Slowing transmission
Helping the epidemic run its course

Spur us to take swift action
Inspire us to do what we can
for those who are more vulnerable than us
Help us to transcend the false divisions
of clean and unclean
sypmtom-free and symptomatic
healthy and sick
Inside and outside the camp
May we let this virus teach us

Just how interconnected
We all really are

Lifter of the Fallen
Healer of the Sick
Redeemer of the Bound
who commands us to wash our hands.

(c) 3.16.2020 by Cantor Abbe Lyons

See "Prayer Amid Pandemic" for more prayers and poems related to the coronavirus crisis.

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