“He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp”.
This week’s Torah reading, Tazria-Metzora, deals with sickness, skin afflictions, impurities, and separating oneself from the community when those things occur. Many English translations use the word “unclean” to describe a person’s status when they have one of these afflictions. They are sent outside the camp, away from others, until they are well or have performed the proper rituals to be part of the community once again. They are placed on the outside at a vulnerable time, sacrificing their connections with the community for their health and safety. They know, however, that this time is finite and they will return to their community.
The quarantine discussed in the Torah portion makes a clear distinction between those on the inside of the camp and those on the outside, in community and away from community. It also provides a ritual for marking the end of the quarantine and a welcome back to the community. One of the difficulties with the COVID-19 pandemic is the uncertainty involved. How long will it last? When will there be enough tests? When will the country re-open? We don’t know and that is scary. Unlike the descriptions of disease in the Torah, we don’t have a prescribed time and process. We are living as both insiders and outsiders, healthy and yet apart, stuck in an emotionally difficult space and unsure how to move between the two realms.
The Jewish calendar does not stop in the time of a pandemic. Next week brings Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. These are two intense days, transitions from grief and mourning to hope and celebration, typically marked with large public gatherings. Many people wonder, how Israelis make the transition between the solemnity and grief of Yom Hazikaron, when nearly every family feels the pain of some loss – to Yom Ha’atzmaut, filled with parties, concerts, and dancing. These two days are a poignant example of moving from outside to inside, of facing loss and grief and moving forward towards hope.
Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are important reminders of living through the unknown and volatility, seeing the joy and hope even during sadness. Many Israelis know how to quickly adapt to quarantine and sheltering in place, facing the new reality with conviction and, when necessary, humor. To live in Israel is to realize that the space between inside and outside is not that wide and that even when there isn’t a clear date or prescribed time for reentry, it will happen and hope cannot fade.
In recognition of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Friday’s Two Minutes of Torah conversation will feature Adam Odesser, JCRC’s Program Associate, in our Israel Action Center. Adam is a native Israeli and he and his family are now living in the DC area. Adam is a former IDF Lieutenant, who served in the IDF for 4 years in the Home Front Command Unit as a Reserves Recruiter and Training Officer.
In the week before Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day 2020, the JCRC's Adam Odesser joins Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky to discuss the importance of both days, how people are commemorating the holidays this year, and how the resilience of Israelis can be an example right now.