We have lived with the Covid virus for almost four years now. At the beginning of the pandemic we lived in mortal fear of infection and death. Over time, through growing understanding of the virus and the rapid deployment of vaccines the danger of the virus receded.
Early on in the pandemic we took extreme measures of isolation. Schools shut down in-person instruction. Those who could, worked from home. At our synagogue, we moved to online services for two years. We all paid a high price for this isolation, with increases in depression, mental illness and suicide.
As a society we are now moving beyond the pandemic to the endemic phase.Yet, for many people the danger remains, particularly for the old and the immunocompromised. How do we address the dangers of this disease while keeping our society as open as possible. We have experienced the dangers of too close contact and the dangers of isolation. How do we strike the proper balance between the two? How do we stay as connected as we can, while keeping the most vulnerable safe?
In this week’s Torah portion we see the ancient Israelites struggling with the same issue. The disease then was Tzara’at, a skin disease like leprosy. The Torah tries to strike a balance between isolation of the sick person and integration with the community. The priest determines whether someone is infected and then has the individual isolated outside the camp for seven days. After another inspection if the person is healthy they go through a ritual of purification and are returned to the community. The entire process is about more than health and hygiene. It is also about community, protecting it from disease, and helping the sick person through community support. Over all this, is the sense of ritual and spirituality that infused the entire process with holiness.
As we seek to find a new balance in our lives, we can learn from this ancient wisdom, to see each individual as holy, to learn to balance the community and the individual’s needs and to recognize that we all need to support and care for each other.