I’m the lucky one who was originally assigned the Torah portions about leprosy and infectious diseases, and then, just to make it even more challenging, was next assigned the portion about a whole bunch of curses! In all seriousness, I believe we can tie both portions together and receive some very important lessons.
I know a lot of people have suffered because of COVID-19 The Torah teaches us not everything in life is supposed to be pleasant. COVID-19 is anything BUT pleasant. Due to COVID many loved ones were taken away too early. Those who survived may still have long term symptoms. And overall, this disease has resulted in social isolation. In order to protect one another, we wear masks, which is essential, but can make it difficult to hear others or interpret their emotions correctly.
Social isolation is described in my Torah portion from late April, Tazria-Metzora. The person who has leprosy is sent to live outside the community in isolation. We too were called upon to socially isolate, which was necessary, but can have emotional drawbacks and mental health implications.
From the very beginning of Genesis, the Torah teaches it is not good for human beings to be alone. But during the height of the crisis and even now if someone is sick, there is no choice but to be alone and isolate.
So how does the Torah portion resolve this problem? When the priest hears about the situation he is instructed to go outside the camp – to go to the afflicted people and not wait for them to come to him.
Hence, the lesson learned, even when you feel alone, you are not truly alone. There can always be the support of your community and the warmth of your loved ones to be there for you. The key to healing is to help the person maintain connections with other people. The Talmud states if you visit a sick person it cures 1/60th of the illness. Even if you need to be six feet away.
This week’s Torah portion, ki tavo, is about the laws of Judaism, as well as the curses and blessings people will get if they obey or disobey. We have seen this in the past few months with coronavirus. When we disobeyed the scientists and doctors by opening up the economy too rapidly and became more lenient about social distancing, the numbers spiked. We have collectively been cursed for not doing what would have kept our community healthy and alive. . The curses have not been simple, random punishments, but direct consequences of bad choices.
Likewise, New Zealand as well as many nations in East Asia had success in dropping the COVID case numbers, because these countries listened to their government’s isolation and distancing policies. They understood wearing masks was a health and safety issue, rather than a political issue. Judaism teaches the importance of protecting our fellow people, and unfortunately in many regions in the United States, we are now suffering the consequences of not protecting one another. If we follow the best guidance, we will be delivered from the suffering.
Another way we can “reverse the curse” is by following an important law in the Torah: a ten percent tax that goes to those who may need it. We have a religious and moral obligation to use our money to help the sick and poor.
Many of the less fortunate can’t afford to pay their rent and/or if inflicted with the disease, their hospital bills can be extraordinary. To make matters worse, The government hasn't been providing adequate benefits for the unemployed and hasn’t provided enough free health care. This broken system could be helped through the mitzvah of charitable donations.
Lastly, this torah portion teaches us forgiveness, with the optimism wrong-doers can learn from their mistakes, but only after being accepted back into society. When individuals do actions they realize now were wrong and can sincerely apologize, we are expected to pardon them. When we hold grudges, we often end up in conflict, and all sides get hurt. Tying this back to the beginning of my speech, we are to forgive those who did not originally wear a mask or take the virus seriously. If we forgive, one is more likely to obey the rules and wear a mask, rather than rebel. I have found from personal experience forgiving others ends conflict between the two parties involved, and heals any inner turmoil as well.
For my mitzvah project, I’m donating books to Fairfield County Children’s shelters. I love to read, and would love to encourage others to read as well – especially since books can be pretty good companions when one feels isolated. Those kids who receive the books will know someone cared about them.