Week-ness: Tazria 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is an ideal amount of time for a vacation? Is a one-week excursion enough time to return rested and refreshed? Or do you need more time, or perhaps less?

While our Torah portion does not speak of vacations, it does speak of people with a skin condition who must leave the community for seven days — so that, presumably, that amount of time will be enough to rejoin society positively:

The Pitch: “But if the priest finds that there is no white hair in it and it is not lower than the rest of the skin, and it is faded, the priest shall isolate him for seven days.” – Leviticus 13:21

Swing #1: “The anxiety about leprosy: Was it just paranoid primitive ignorance, or a foresighted public health precaution? The priests are instructed to quarantine those with skin diseases. Perhaps this is the first recorded example of a public health campaign.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “The verse should be understood as follows: ‘even though the symptom of the affected skin does not appear lower than that surrounding it, but the intensity of the discoloration has not diminished, this is sufficient reason for the priest to place the person in isolation, even if the hair in that area has not turned white; in other words, if the intensity of the discoloration did diminish, it is clear that the person afflicted will be declared ritually pure.’” – Chizkuni

Swing #3: “The minimum time of such an isolation is seven days, which is how long the isolation is for a person. The maximum time is three weeks, which is only for a house.” – Mishnah Yomit on Mishnah Arakhin

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that isolating someone with this skin disease is more for the benefit of the afflicted one or of society as a whole? When is it most beneficial to separate from society? When we isolate ourselves from the outside world, how do we know when we’re ready to rejoin it?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow, we’ll be honored to welcome Kate Smith of the Jewish National Fund. JNF continues to do important work benefiting Israeli society in a way that transcends politics. Please join us at services tomorrow to hear her speak of some of the organization’s important work.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of separating from society, there were countless rumors of where Sandy Koufax spent Yom Kippur in 1965 — the famous day he declined to pitch the first game of the World Series so that he could observe the Day of Atonement. Congregants of numerous synagogues insisted that they saw Koufax in their pews, but the truth is that he spent the day alone in his hotel room, observing the day with the same quiet dignity that has marked his entire life.

Shabbat Shalom!