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SERMON: To Israel, with Love

April 17, 2013

On the menu for today is Turkey and Obama, our children and leprosy. So let’s get rid of the leprosy first so we can get to the main dish.

Our Torah portions of this morning, Tazria and Metzorah, have been every rabbi’s nightmare down through the centuries. What can one say about Torah portions that deal primarily with the laws of leprosy as they affected the ancient Jewish community? Fortunately, in recent times – perhaps starting with the commentary of the great German scholar, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch – there has come an understanding that these laws really did not speak of leprosy itself. Too many of the details just don’t pertain to leprosy as we know it; the details don’t always match. Many of leprosy’s normal symptoms are not mentioned. The Torah speaks of this ailment affecting the walls of one’s home and one’s clothing. We know that this is certainly not the case with leprosy. And if we are speaking of leprosy as a contagious disease, how come the Kohain was called upon to be in contact with the leper for healing? No, our sages long ago tried to read something else into this word “metzorah” – the word we have for “leprosy” by referring to it instead as “motzi rah” – he who spreads gossip. What the sages and certainly Rabbi Hirsch are telling us is that what we are talking about here is not a physical ailment, but a moral failing.

With this in mind, what was done to the so-called “leper” is most instructive. The moral “leper” was required to leave the camp and remain isolated for seven days. The moral “leper” must dwell in complete isolation for the damage he has done to the social fabric of his community. Such a person was considered such a danger to the moral life of those he was living with that he had to be shut off from all contact with them. That is what is done to people who are considered a threat. The Amish and Mennonite churches have something called “shunning” while the Witnesses refer to it as “dis-fellowshipping.” In Judaism we have the concept of putting someone in the “Cherem.” But it’s not just in the world of religion. The most dangerous prisoners are put in isolation. Being isolated from the world around you is a terrible feeling. If you want to have some idea of how horrible it can feel, just ask the people of Israel. READ MORE

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