Today’s Leprosy: Loneliness

Commentary on Parshat Metzora: Leviticus 14:1-15:33

In biblical times, for the safety of the rest of the community, a person stricken with leprosy was placed outside of the camp. Food, clothing, shelter, the basics of human need was provided for, but they were not a part of the day-to-day life of the people. What was it like to be so close but not be a part of the group? Sadly, we’ve all experienced something like that at some point in our lives. Invariably, because of the constantly changing, and consequently challenging, nature of life, we each know what it means to feel alone. If not actually alone, misunderstood — which feels quite the same. In such moments, we might be in a room with people we know, and nonetheless feel distant from them, as if we are on another planet — just outside the camp.

When the lepers of the Bible healed, they were welcomed back into the community. Upon their return, they underwent a strange ritual mentioned in only one other place in the Torah, in dedicating and anointing the kohanim, the holy priests who served God and the people. What might we make of this strange connection between those who have felt the pain of being displaced from community to those so central to its function? Here is one possibility:

When we own and master those aspects of our life which cause us to feel different, less a part of the group, we can return to model and serve those around us precisely because we have known both the pain of existential solitude as well as the healing power of being a part of something greater than the self.

When we identify what makes us feel alone and ‘other’, we become more aware of similar dynamics within those around us and are in turn better able to bring them back, closer to the heart of our community, where they belong.

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