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Metzora Shabbat Hagadol – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This year, being a leap year, the Sedra, Metzora, is not joined with Tazria in the way we might normally expect. These two Sedrot are intimately linked with the discussion of the laws of “tumah v’taharah”, ritual impurity and purity; all diagnosed and determined by the Kohanim.

More than one type of impurity is defined.Tsaarat (leprosy) can be identified as either a pathological disease or an affliction brought on by our own behaviour (Lashon Hara). The normal physiological consequences of being human, menstruation and “emissions”, are also listed as a cause of impurity. Isolation, “until the eighth day” is imposed whilst the complicated rituals of guilt offering, and sin offerings, are enacted.

Tazria also anticipates settlement in the land and living in cities.

כִּ֤י תָבֹ֨אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַֽאֲחֻזָּ֑ה
When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession

Travelling in the wilderness, moving from camp to camp, quarantine would protect from cross infection. Those afflicted were kept within sight of the camp but were still identified as part of the people. In a city, being moved outside the walls would mean isolation; literally being kept out of sight.

In the Haftorah the lepers at the gate ask

מָ֗ה אֲנַ֛חְנוּ ישְׁבִ֥ים פֹּ֖ה עַד־מָֽתְנוּ
Why are we sitting here until we die?

Over the past months many of us have had to endure periods of isolation due to Covid but there was always an end in sight, and we would rejoin our communities. Leprosy can now be treated but, until a generation or so ago, children and adults with permanent disabilities were still hidden away. Isolation from the wider society meant perpetual exclusion.

In the present day we still hear of cases of children and young adults being subject to inappropriate restraint and seclusion.

I recall Rabbi Collick(z”l) watching disabled children in Shul happily included in and engaging with the services in their own way, saying that at those times he felt the presence of God was around us.

Continued inability to engage with those who are vulnerable or disabled through no fault of their own can be viewed as a reflection of the impurity of society as a whole.

Shabbat Hagadol

Why is this year different from other years?

Well, the past year was certainly a different year. Hopefully we can come together in some semblance or normality soon.

Shabbat Hagadol, is when we usually have a long sermon about the laws of Pesach. I suspect that most of us will be turning to our family memories and traditions but that is actually a wonderful thing.

As Jews we are known for taking the long view. We have been through so much in terms of bad times that we have learnt, painfully, to “keep the fire burning” So what good can we take from what is happening?

I came across a blog from a cousin, based on the poem from 1918, “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow”. He looks forward

We’re rediscovering and rebuilding local communIty
We’re strengthening our sense of civic responsibility and the role of Society
We’re seeing the vital role of people doing jobs that were ignored
We’re rediscovering shared healthcare hand-washing and exercise
The pandemic is inspiring a generation to go into research, engineering and medicine.
We’re seeing the best of human endeavour being brought to bear against a global challenge and being absorbed by children and young adults.
We have a painful reminder that the global economy matters and that we’re part of a connected world
Our work is being transformed. flexible and virtual working. the stark differences between those who care and those who are in selfish pursuit for profit over people realising that the internet has become a basic infrastructure need, not a luxury a huge impact on our sense of connectedness and on dealing with loneliness
There are plenty of bad times to come as the history of this shocking period is written. But we can think forward to a future where the learning and new perspectives of this challenge will start to enrich us — after the devastation, the poppies will grow

The world about us is in turmoil. The reports from Ukraine bring back painful memories. Covid still runs through the world

May we all have a peaceful and healthy Pesach, however different, and be together and safe for the year ahead.

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