How does disease change us, as individuals and as a society?
For more than a year now the entire world has been gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 550,000 have died from the disease, millions more have been infected, and a small but significant percentage are suffering from the long-term effects of COVID. To keep the disease under control, to minimize its impact on our collective health, we have moved into physical isolation, distancing ourselves from one another and living much of our lives online, if we can.
This week’s Torah portion, Tazriah-Metzora, explores how our ancestors dealt with skin disease, tzara’at, “He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:42). He is socially isolated to contain the spread of the disease.
Commenting on this verse, Chizkuni wrote, “the disease from which he suffers is contagious to people who conduct social intercourse with him.” (France, 13th Century) This should sound familiar; we, too, have been struggling to combat a deadly disease that is highly contagious, so we have isolated ourselves from one another to keep ourselves and our community safe.
All of us are living outside the camp and suffering from the social isolation that comes with that condition. Hopefully, soon, with enough people vaccinated we will be able to emerge from this isolation and come back to life as a community, to “reenter the camp.”
When the victim of tzara’at is healed, the priest would perform a ritual to enable them to reenter the camp. Perhaps we can can learn from our tradition and begin planning a ritual of reentry and reconnection
~Rabbi Dean Kertesz