Tazria/Metzora 5783 – Six Feet Apart
I know after Passover and after three years of covid we’re probably sick of talking about plagues, but that is the focus of this week’s double portion, Tazria/Metzora. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the chassidic masters mostly seek to reinterpret and understand these issues in metaphorical ways to teach us lessons about how to live our lives. But there is something interesting happening in the literal words and instructions that I wanted to point out this week. In the Torah we read:
ובא אשר לו הבית והגיד לכהן לאמר כנגע נראה לי בבית (ויקרא י”ד:ל”ה)
“The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, ‘something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’” (Vayikra 14:35)
Rashi explains that even the wisest sage, a Talmid Chacham, who clearly knows what this plague is supposed to look like, still should never say “a plague has appeared upon my house,” rather, “something like a plague” in their house. And if you can’t say it about your own house, all the more so you can’t say it about a neighbor or friend’s house. From here we learn that no one should be too quick to point fingers or to diagnose an issue.
Then there is the cleaning procedure: When one sees something “like a plague” and reports it, they have to take everything out of their house before the priest comes in, but the house is assumed to be clean until proven impure. And if it is shown to be impure, the house is closed up for seven days. And then if the plague is shown to persist deep into the wall, you remove only those stones which have been specifically affected by the plague. There is a clear message here. You don’t destroy the entire house just because there is something wrong with it.
There is a process outlined in detail to fix the issue. First, you notice a problem. You let it percolate for a while. You discuss with experts. If you come to the conclusion that this problem is real, you go to the root of the specific problem and you fix it. And once you fix it, you reevaluate again to see if that solution is viable and if it actually fixed the problem. The constant re-evaluation and consideration help us to discern at each step along the way if we are making the right choices.
And we’re not just talking about a literal plague. We could be talking about any problem that we’ve noticed within our home. So how can we create checks and balances for ourselves and our communities to continue to make sure we are serving our communal needs? And if we do find an issue, how do we make sure to find a solution that solves the specific problem without tearing our whole house down to fix it?
I wrote this song, “Six Feet Apart,” in March 2020, at a time when we had no idea about the extent of the plague we were about to find ourselves in. It’s a song of desperation and a song of hope, a song of seeking and a song of reaching out to find each other even when we were further apart than we’d ever been. Towards the end the lyrics are, “And one day soon we’ll all be in one room, but until then…Sing a song even when no one can sing along, you know they’re there on the other side of the screen.”
Thinking about it and singing it in rooms across the country brings me so much joy and new hope. As we head towards Spring and new beginnings, what are you hoping for?