Parashat Metzora

Reaching Out To The Isolated

Just as the priest went out from the community to welcome back those who had been afflicted with leprosy, we too should reach out to those who feel excluded from our communities.

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Provided by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a multi-denominational think tank and resource center.

The parashah opens with a description of the ritual for purifying a metzora, an Israelite stricken with a skin disease. The metzora is required to dwell outside the Israelite camp until the affliction has passed. On the day on which the metzora is eligible for purification, the Torah records that "he shall be brought to the priest" (Leviticus 14:2).

The next verse, however, reports that "the priest shall go outside the camp" to the place where the metzora has dwelt alone during his sickness. The classical commentaries explain the apparent contradiction by noting that the priest must go out to the metzora since the latter cannot return to the camp until the purification ritual has been performed.

To the commentators' explanations for the priest's behavior, we can add another insight. The metzora, as a result of contracting a disfiguring disease, has been exiled from the community. While this precaution may have risen from the desire to prevent the spread of a contagious disease, it undoubtedly left the metzora feeling emotionally, as well as physically, alone.

Rejoining the Community

Cured of his illness, the metzora is now permitted to rejoin the community, but the period of isolation may have left him angry and withdrawn. The priest goes out to meet the metzora in part to draw him back into the community. Reentering the community is a gradual process, reflecting the difficulty the metzora experiences reconnecting with other human beings.

Our communities include individuals who for one reason or another feel isolated. We cannot ignore these people or contribute to their feelings of estrangement. Fear of their afflictions is no excuse for causing them further pain. Just as the priest goes out to meet the metzora, so too we must reach out to those in our midst who have been excluded, drawing them back into a caring community.

Dvora Weisberg

Dvora Weisberg is Associate Professor of Rabbinics and Director of the Beit Midrash at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.