Parashat Metzora – Erev Shabbat 8 April 2022 (5782)
Week of 3-11 April 2022
Torah portion: Leviticus 14:1-15:33 Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24
Theme: Elevating the Excluded: Rituals to Welcome the Quarantined
Living in this, the third year of COVID, I find this week’s Torah portion about tzaraat and the guidelines for the m’tzorahave been transformed from strangely irrelevant to surprisingly relevant. Discussions of social distancing (14:2-3), isolation and return-to-public protocols (14:7-11), and quarantine requirements (14:38) have become familiar realities for each of us. Our first-hand experiences of isolation and quarantine, powerfully remind us that uncleanness and COVID are neither sin-related nor God-caused (Eskenazi, 657). The detailed return-to-community descriptions in Parashat Metzora remind us that isolation, quarantine and physical distancing – even when wisely warranted – can exact painful and long-lasting social and emotional turmoil that need to be remediated. We also have experienced these realities throughout COVID: loneliness, depression, and the breakdown of community have reached epidemic levels today. Perhaps the Levitical practices can inform our contemporary approaches to rehabilitation. These practices include multiple opportunities for the m’tzora to draw near to God (the literal meaning of Korbanot/sacrifices) (14:10), welcoming individuals back into faith communities (14:11), the use of healing physical touch (14:14.17-18) and establishing special provisions for the poor (14:21-22).
Whereas the m’tzora’s condition once connected him/her to mourning and death (Held 43), these practices methodically and intentionally create opportunities for all – regardless of wealth, gender, or identity – to return fully to their community. These rituals were not completed secretly, away from the public view, but with a great ceremony paralleled by the ordination of priests (see Lev. 8 and Ex. 29). The ones who were once excluded – the quarantined and isolated – are welcomed back with ceremonial ritual (Eskenazi, 661).
The Haftarah text reiterates this emphasis on welcoming those typically and easily discarded and rejected. Whereas Leviticus outlines welcoming rituals, Malachi warns those who do not welcome others, noting that the Lord of heavenly forces promises to testify “against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages as well as oppress the widow and the orphan, and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me” (Malachi 3:5 CEB). The Lord who does not change (Mal. 3:6), but continues to speak meaningfully today, even through the ancient words of Leviticus.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How does your experience of COVID impact your reading of Parashat Metzora? 2. How might the four Levitical practices discussed above have contemporary application in your setting, particularly in engaging with individuals who have experienced extended isolation? 3. Compare the ceremony in Lev. 14:14 and priestly ordination in Lev. 8 and Ex. 29. What might be the significance of these parallels?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T.C. and A.L. Weiss. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008). Held, S. The Heart of Torah Vol 2 (Philadelphia: 2017).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble, USA, Bat Kol Alumna: 2013