“As long as the disease is upon him, he will be ritually impure.
He should remain isolated. His place should be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46)
We read two parashot (portions) this week because of the Jewish calendar’s nature. The moon’s cycle determines the months, but the sun’s cycle determines the year. Therefore, a Jewish year can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up.”
Parashat Metzora is a perfect fit for these Covid-19 days. It describes what happens when someone has tzara-at (a variety of erupting skin diseases). The kohen, or priest, examines the person (read: tests) to determine if it is, indeed, tzara-at. A positive “test” results in isolation from the community (quarantine). The kohen visits the person periodically to re-examine (re-test). Only when the kohen is satisfied the tzara-at is fully healed may the afflicted individual rejoin the community.
S’forno (c. 1470–c. 1550; Italian commentator and physician) says one reason the kohen makes the diagnosis (rather than a healer) is because the kohen possesses expertise accumulated over a career of examining individuals with these symptoms. The Lubavitcher Rebbe ((Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994; one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century) adds another reason: the kohen is a descendent of Aaron, a disciple of peace (Pirkei Avot 1:12), but also someone who, “blesses the people of Israel with love.’ (holiday liturgy). If a harsh decree is necessary, it needs to be delivered with love, so it can be both absorbed and observed.
We’re all eager for the Covid-19 restrictions to be relaxed. Let’s hope our modern-day kohanim possess and exercise both the knowledge and the love to make the necessary call.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom