On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah - Tazria: Where and How Do We Heal?

This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs teaches us from Parashat Tazria in the book of Leviticus, asking where we start when we need healing. 

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome to episode 11 of “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah,” a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. Each week, we reflect on more than 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom in just 10 minutes with modern day commentary on the weekly Torah portion. Of course, we think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, and we want to hear what you think.

Talk to us on Twitter. Our handle is @URJ. Like us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism. And subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, teaches us from Parashat Tazria in the Book of Leviticus, asking where we start when we need healing?

[Rabbi Rick:] This week we study Parashat Tazria. In many years, we actually link Parashat Tazria to next week's portion, Parashat M’tzora. They are both Torah portions that teach us about responding to people, not simply with illness, but with a particular illness, leprosy in the Bible. A disease that wasn't just thought of as a physical manifestation, but the result, according to our tradition, somehow a result of certain behaviors.

A person didn't just catch leprosy. We learned in the Book of Numbers in the case of Miriam that she developed a scaly affection because she had spoken ill of her brother Moses. So, it was punishment. Illness as punishment is a very, very difficult and challenging subject.

We think about those who are struggling with serious illness. The illness itself is a struggle. But the first thing in the biblical narrative is to identify that person with tzara’at, with leprosy, and to remove them from the camp, to take them out of contact with people. Why? Because they were afraid that they would spread the germs and the disease.

So, the first thing is to literally isolate the person with illness. The one thing we know about illness is that the thing we can't do is isolate an individual with illness. That illness may be HIV, that illness may be Zika, it may be mental illness, whatever it is, we actually have the responsibility of the ancient kohen, the ancient priest that we're all called to be a mamlechet kohanim. We're all called to be healers, people who not only can identify illness, but make it our spiritual business to bring healing and to break down that wall of isolation, and even the idea of suggesting that a person brought that illness on themselves by some behavior. So, we have a whole broad, beautiful, and wise tradition about how we can practice healing, whether it's to visit somebody who is ill to bring them sometimes just our very presence, to sit with someone in the hospital or at home, to show them we care. We bring them the love and the support that oftentimes is not found in the medicine that they receive.

So how is it that we think about our ability to bring healing-- not just to say a Mi Shebeirach, a prayer of healing, but also to act in a healing way to those who struggle. The world can be divided into two, the people who are in need of healing and the people who will someday soon be in need of healing. We're all called upon to bring that strength and that healing, and we will all, in the course of our lifetime, need to be recipients of that healing.

So, our tradition is sophisticated. It says that the main move in Tazria-Metzora isn't to cast out, but to bring back in, and to purify those who have been through a difficult and isolating illness, to figure out how ritually to make them feel whole. It's one thing, please God, to regain their physical strength and well-being, it's another to regain that sense of wellness. So, the tradition gives us rituals, it gives us actions. And our broader tradition elevates the idea of bikur cholim, of visiting people who are sick, and to bring them both words of encouragement and to say a prayer, and to sit sometimes after bringing-- whether it's something wonderful to read, a book that we love, or a little bit of nourishment, some cookies that we made, or just our very, very presence and being.

We are the Jewish people. We have been the lepers of history. We know what it's like to be a people that is treated as a leper. And so we also think about those in our day, the refugees who can't find a home, the homeless who are blamed, often, for being homeless as opposed to feeling both the empathy and the obligation to bring them in.

So as we think of Tazria-Metzora, we think of leprosy not only as a biblical ailment, but as a modern-day challenge for us-- to be a community of healing, to bring those who are isolated into the loving contact of community, of the beauty and the depth of our tradition and the power of prayer. So, we think about all those priestly ways that our ancestors created a community of holiness. And they did it not only at times of joy, but they also did it when things were most difficult and challenging.

Sometimes we, in modern-day life, mistake cure for healing. Sometimes we're able to bring healing when there is no cure. We're able to bring a sense of wholeness, a sense of well-being, a sense of being loved, even when the physicians and those who are charged professionally to be healers can bring nothing more than their own act of kindness and bikur cholim. So, for us to think about all the ways, in our broken and fragmented world, we can bring wholeness. We can be like the ancient priests, those who not only identify illness and things that are challenging, but we actually take it upon ourselves to make the world better, person by person, act by act. And in so doing, we practice and live the holiness first taught in the book of Leviticus but practiced every day, everywhere, by those who accept their role to be people of holiness and wholeness.

[URJ Outro:] Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of "On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah." If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org and on iTunes, where we would love for you to rate and review us. And you can visit ReformJudaism.org to learn more about all aspects of Judaism, including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. "On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Until next week -- L’hitraot!