“And the purifying priest shall set the man to be purified, and those things, before God, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” (Leviticus 14: 11)
Parashat Metzora describes what happens when someone has tzara-at (a variety of erupting skin diseases). The immediate response is to separate the person from the community. This makes sense, from an infectious disease/public health perspective. A kohen, or priest, visits the person regularly to check the healing progress during this period of isolation. The kohen visits, rather than a doctor, because it is presumed tzara-at is the result of moral or spiritual shortcoming. When the kohen is satisfied the tzara-at is healed, he performs a purification ritual. The afflicted person offers a sacrifice and then is accepted back into the community completely.
The goal in all this, of course, is individual tikkun, or repair, for the sake of both individual and communal wholeness. So, even when the person is quarantined, the visiting kohen maintains the connection to the community. And when the person is ready, the reintegration is not gradual or marginal: it occurs in front of ohel moed, the Tent of Meeting, the most sacred public space. After that, the person resumes full communal participation. The point is clear: if someone is missing, the community is incomplete.
In today’s world we usually don’t equate illness with moral failing, but Metzora still challenges us with regard to communal wholeness. When someone wrongs us, we often say we forgive them, but do we really? And when someone wrongs the community, and pays the penalty, do we ever really let them return, fully? Metzora offers an aspirational vision: a society with a justice system that privileges connection and reintegration over separation and punishment.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom