This portion is quite off-putting to the modern reader. It first lays out the rules for purifying one’s body after childbirth and after a woman’s period which are a little odd, and to honest with you, quite sexist. And then this parsha addresses the idea of sickness, often translated as leprosy in the text. The Israelites are instructed to isolate those with the ailment from the rest of the camp. This whole parsha uses the words tumah and taharah, impure and pure over and over again. It puts people into boxes. In the parsha, the idea of “sickness” can be used to describe any “not normal” physical condition, any box that is out of the ordinary. Any box that we put people in.
Two thoughts on this: Firstly, this reminds me of the isolation that people who suffer from mental illness often end up in. Because people see us as sick, or more likely a burden, they leave us alone. But that’s not the way out. That’s not the way of healing in any scenario. One cannot save themselves from their own mind by themselves. Believe me, I speak from experience. We would hope that our views on the inflicted have changed since the time of the Torah. Unfortunately, we are not much better than the Israelites. There may not be a certain period of time prescribed in which we don’t text our friend with anxiety back like there is for the isolation of a person with leprosy, but at the end of the day, those who suffer end up alone all too often. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too even though I’m often on the other side of it.
We also have a really hard time understanding disease when it has no cure. To start with, we as humans, are terrible at talking about pain. We don’t have the language needed to express it. The only way to understand one’s pain is to be inside of their consciousness which is simply not possible. Think of it this way, when your friend gets sick, you go to the “get well soon” section at Walgreens to buy them a card. There is no get well soon for so many chronic illnesses, so there is no card. There is no prescribed way to treat them, so instead, they are isolated. There is nothing you can except help them mitigate the symptoms and support us during the good days and the bad days. And this is not easy.
So what can we learn from this parsha? There needs to be a change in the way that we look at those with chronic illness, both mental and physical. We need to accept that it isn’t easy to help in a world with no cure, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As we sang the Mi Shebeirach and as we sing it tomorrow, we need to seriously think of what actions of healing we will take along with our prayer. How will you reach out? A card, a call, even a facebook message. Isolation is one of the most painful things that humans can experience. Noone should have to go it alone. And if you are suffering, you are not alone. I am not alone. We are a community committed to one another and to learning from the text that guides our tradition and holding one another up because of it. Shabbat Shalom.