I will never forget the day many months ago when in between cartwheels, flips and front walkovers I first sat down to learn my Torah portion. You see, today’s readings are about leprosy. Leprosy I thought, “that’s just great”. How could this possibly be meaningful today? In talking with my mom, dad and Rabbi Hammerman, I began to see that these teachings really do relate not only to the world around us but also to me.
My Torah portion looks at various forms of impurity that our ancestors feared removed them from the holiness of the community. It talks about the impurity of childbirth (Tazria) and skin diseases such as leprosy (Metzorah). The rabbis interpret the term – metzorah to be short for “Motzi-Shem-Ra,” which means a person who brings out a bad name. Rabbi Hammerman explained to me that this mean someone who gossips, or does what we call in Hebrew “Lashon ha-ra.” Now for those who don’t know me well, you should know that I am a 100% certified chatterbox. I love to talk! Talk, talk, talk. And I know that at times despite people’s best efforts we may gossip about another person or communicate bad things about someone --- even without speech – such as when we roll our eyes or through emails, texting or even through social media. The sages went on to say that just as someone with a severe disease is separated from the community, so are gossipers. People don’t want to be near them because they don’t trust them.
But once people are removed from the community, then what?? Well, the torah goes on to say that while people were isolated from the community the Kohen still cared for them. The Kohen would check the condition of the sick people and determine when they were healed. Then when it was safe, or in the case of gossiping---when people learned their lesson, those displaced people were welcomed open-arms back into the community.
So, how does this relate to us today -- well, only a few short months ago, our world was shaken by the EBOLA virus. People came into the United States with EBOLA that could be spread quickly. These people had to be isolated in the hospital. And despite the severe health threat, care givers tended to these patients, often putting their own lives at risk. Through these efforts, the EBOLA virus has not been allowed to spread through the United States.
And think about Lashon ha-ra or gossiping. My favorite site - -INSTAGRAM -- let’s you post pictures and people get to comment on how you look, about what you are wearing, and even your shoes. You can comment on everything! While it can be a lot of fun, sometimes you may say things that are hurtful. When someone gets hurt, usually a mom will yell and say "GET OFF THE PHONE AND STOP LOOKING AT THAT SITE." If that happens then that kid is no longer in the group. In those cases, the torah says you need to apologize, make the person feel better and include them back into the group chat.
What all of this is really teaching us, is that as a community we all have an obligation to reach out to those who are troubled, the sick or poor, to those who are disabled, and those who are hurting. We have to find a way to bring them back into the community.
So this difficult Torah portion teaches us something very important: We need to confront what is broken in our world to begin to fix it. None of us is perfect. Neither is our world. So, each of us in our own ways, need to help others.
In light of these teachings, I decided that for my mitzvah project, I wanted to work with David’s treasure tree Toy Closet at Stamford Hospital. This organization collects toys and gift cards and gives them to the kids in the pediatric unit. Right now, while we are celebrating, there is a family in the pediatric unit of Stamford Hospital, removed from their daily life, dealing with an illness. While they are there someone from David's Treasure Tree is going to come in and bring the child a brand new toy or a new ITUNES gift card. At that moment, this little present is going to help that child focus on something other than the illness that has landed them in the hospital and out of the community in which they live. Since I, my brother and sister, have all been in Stamford Hospital before and received presents from David's Treasure Tree, we know how cool it is to get a present when you are not feeling well. So, I wanted to give back to my community and help others. And, I want to thank all of you for helping me collect toys and gift cards for David's Treasure Tree. Together, we have done what my torah portion asks of us today, to make our community better.