Parashat Tazria

Judging Ourselves And Others

The priest's role in declaring and treating leprosy, a physical manifestation of spiritual impurity, teaches us not to judge our own or others' spiritual lives.

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Quite often, however, we simply can't, and mustn't, judge the spiritual, physical, or moral condition of another person--we usually don't have all the facts. We may not be experts, and personal relationships may make objectivity impossible. We might declare another person "outside the camp," because of their behavior or appearance, but we might be seeing only the outside appearance of things, without the subtleties. To me, the Torah's message in this verse is: don't think you can diagnose your neighbor's problems so easily.

Of course, it's also true that a person cannot declare himself or herself a metzora, either. Denial can work in two ways: We can refuse to see a problem in ourselves, until we are presented with unavoidable, straightforward evidence, and we can also think things are worse than they are, until someone else tells us there is real hope.

I'm not suggesting that we don't have real insight into our own problems, and the problems of those around us--I'm only suggesting that sometimes it pays to leave the exact diagnosis of a mental, spiritual or physical condition to those who can be both objective and helpful. A busybody thinks they know what's wrong with everybody around them; a compassionate and loving person sees that people get the help they need, without presuming that they themselves have all the answers.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.