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  • Writer's pictureJosh Scharff

Parashat Metzora - Bringing People In

As we learned in last week’s portion, the Torah commands that any person infected with tza’raat is isolated from the community until the priests are able to confirm they are healed. In Parashat Metzora, this week’s portion, we read about the ceremony and process that allows the infected person to return to the community. The person is required to bring sacrifices that are carried out by the priest. Then they are consecrated with oil and allowed to return home to their family. 

It may seem strange to hold a ceremony on this occasion. What purpose does it serve to continue to draw attention to the fact that this person has been forced to spend time away from the community because of a disfiguring affliction? In a 2011 article, Professor Shadd Maruna wrote the following about reentry ceremonies as rites of passage: 

Former outcasts would be welcomed into a society, and welcomed with excitement and enthusiasm – whether or not participants were completely positive they had anything to be enthusiastic about. The idea is to communicate a message of hope or a point of view in the hopes that this message will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As is so often the case in Judaism, we are commanded to mark a differentiation. By marking this particular occasion we signal to the person forced into isolation that they are, once again, full and loved members of society. The ceremony also serves as a lesson to the wider society that it is incumbent upon us to embrace the returning member and treat them just as we would any other member of the community. 

Rabbi Dvora Weisberg teaches the following about the process of isolation and return: 

The metzora [one who has contracted tza’raat], as a result of contracting a disfiguring disease, has been exiled from the community. While this precaution may have risen from the desire to prevent the spread of a contagious disease, it undoubtedly left the metzora feeling emotionally, as well as physically, alone.

Cured of his illness, the metzora is now permitted to rejoin the community, but the period of isolation may have left him angry and withdrawn. The priest goes out to meet the metzora in part to draw him back into the community. Reentering the community is a gradual process, reflecting the difficulty the metzora experiences reconnecting with other human beings.

Our communities include individuals who for one reason or another feel isolated. We cannot ignore these people or contribute to their feelings of estrangement. Fear of their afflictions is no excuse for causing them further pain. Just as the priest goes out to meet the metzora, so too we must reach out to those in our midst who have been excluded, drawing them back into a caring community.

We are reminded that we so often have the chance to reach out, to connect with, and to bring in those who feel that they have been cast aside. All of us have the chance to open our doors and welcome in those Jews who feel adrift, unanchored in a way that perhaps have never experienced. 

We are all emotionally raw from all that has happened over the past six months, feeling hurt and angry. Being drawn back in by our families and our communities is, perhaps has always been, the best way of starting to heal these wounds. In a year in which so many liberal Jews have felt isolated, betrayed by and cast out of their progressive communities that they thought were their homes, Metzora presents us an opportunity. Particularly in the days leading up to Passover when we will gather as friends and family around the Seder table, this is a powerful message to hear. 

May we all have the courage and the love to open our doors to those who have been cast aside and remind them that they always have a home here in our communities. 

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