Monday, May 18, 2015


This is actually a continuation of the last posting as it is also a continuation of my daily learning of Gemara. I am still in the middle of Pesachim and learned a wonderful concept a while ago that is how God, called RACHMANA (The Compassionate One) FIXES difficulties in the text by making the exclusion of the one with Tzara’at (leprosy) a positive commandment for him or her alone to observe by the juxtaposition of words that indicate that the one with Tzara’at should live alone outside of the camp (understood to be the general community).

This concept struck me as amazing on several levels. First, this is NOT a matter necessarily of forced exclusion of one towards another but indicated as a personal responsibility to exclude one self. Let us reformulate this a bit. Think of those of us who go on meditation retreats to cleanse ourselves from the “stuff’ of living and to try to center ourselves. Many of us put ourselves in all types of seclusion for different reasons. What if we can turn this around and look at the one with Leprosy as one who needs and embraces this seclusion to reconsider one’s life and the trajectory of that journey. For those of you who think that this sounds so absurd, consider those of us who have various illnesses and do exactly this. For me, as a chronic asthmatic, the notion of solitude and concentrating on my breath and only on that, for example, has a very powerful meaning.

What if Miriam (Moshe and Aharon’s sister), with her leprosy, needed that reboot? While the Midrash and others teach that this leprosy was a result of her speaking inappropriately about Moshe publicly, we could look at this as a “stress itch.” We know all too well that so much of what happens inside of us shows on our skin, especially those with various skin ailments, such as eczema or even … leprosy??? We are all fallible and try our best and so many who do experience such seclusion as a result of illness do report a type of reconsideration of their own sense of what it means to be human and humane on many levels. Its just something to consider, though it may be somewhat “out there.”

Secondly, in Pesachim, we learn that the one who does not abide by this commandment of exclusion is NOT to be punished severely for they have transgressed a positive commandment, not ignored a negative one. Finally, the notion can be extrapolated that the responsibility for this is NOT on the community, in terms of how they view another. Rather, the responsibility is on the self for excluding one from the sanctity of the ritual practice for a given period of time. Perhaps, just maybe, this provides a wonderful model for how we look at various needs of withholding oneself from the larger collective and how it is a personal matter, not one of community sanction.

There is this notion in Torah learning of the value of a REMEZ, that is a hint from the text. This discussion in the Gemara is all about this hint that we are to discern from our careful reading and understanding of the text and what it is as well as what it is not teaching us. I think that is critically important for those who are too often so quick to judge others to remember!

Shavuot is coming up. We are taught that we WERE ALL present to receive Torah. Similarly, in the beginning of Masechet Hagiga in the Talmud we are taught that ALL OF US should be part of this communal experience of coming to the Temple with our offerings. As we have discussed at other points on this blog, right after this statement, too many groups are categorically excluded (e.g. women, those of questionable gender identification, deaf, blind, children, lame, slaves, etc.). However, the Tractate then goes on to “retract” a bit, if you will, by stating conditions of exclusion that ultimately err on the side of caution in including everyone who wants to be there. I think our Talmudic teachers are sending us a message of great import for our lives today. Namely, that is, it is NOT up to us individually to exclude or to send members of our community out. Rather, individuals will take on various states of inclusion or exclusion of their own accord, as it is important to each of us when looking at our community.

Let us consider this Shavuot the degree to which we personally want to be part of community and worry about the genuine nature of that inclusion and let each other person tend to their own personal positive commandment to do so. In that manner, we can joyfully and freely accept the wonder of our Torah and all it is, regardless of so many reasons that others may indicate we should not do so. It is NOT theirs to judge!

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