What Benefit Is There to Quarantine?

Tazria-Metzora 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

The two parashot we read this Shabbat are Tazria and Metzora.  They both deal with topics that do not have direct implications for our lives: laws of purity and impurity, with a significant section dedicated to laws pertaining to the ?metzora?, one suffering from a skin disease.  According to what is written in these parashot, a person who suffers from various kinds of skin diseases must undergo a complicated process of purification which includes periods of quarantine of varying lengths of time.  At the end of the process, he is supposed to bring a sacrifice to the Temple.

What Benefit Is There to Quarantine?

When we examine these Torah portions, we must start with a basic premise: These were not contagious illnesses, and the purification process did not include any acts whatsoever that were hygienic or medical. There is an array of evidence of this, and the commentators dealt with this extensively.  For our purposes, one piece of evidence will suffice: The Torah writes that a person whose skin disease has spread on his entire body and doesn?t have any ?clean? spots ? is pure.  If this were a contagious disease, this determination purifying the ?sick? person in such a serious state would be completely illogical.

What is being discussed is, therefore, an ?illness? of a spiritual nature, so the attitude about it stems from a certain outlook on the person, on society, and on the relationship between body and soul.  We often deal with faulty spiritual-moral-social predicaments whose impairment is expressed not only in the social fabric or emotional state of the person, but also in his physical state. It sounds strange, but many different philosophers from different times were very preoccupied with the interaction between emotional and physical processes and tried to find an explanation for psychosomatic phenomena. This is a field that is still not completely understood by even the greatest of researchers, but the spiritual-moral attitude of the Torah regarding the ?metzora? points to the fact that indeed, there can be spiritual-emotional issues expressed by physical ailments.

The sages of the midrash teach us the following:

Thus have our masters taught: The affliction comes [upon one] for eleven things: For idolatry, for desecration of the name [of God], for unchastity, for theft, for slander, for false witness, upon the judge who perverts justice, for swearing in vain, upon one who enters a domain which is not his, upon one who thinks false thoughts, and upon one who instigates quarrels among brothers. And some also say, ?for the evil eye (i.e., for being miserly).?  

(Midrash Tanchuma on Metzora, siman 4)

The process the ?metzora? must undergo includes periods of quarantine.  This quarantine can be interpreted as punishment or as a process of educational significance.  What is our first thought when we think about quarantine? Nowadays, when all of humanity fears the coronavirus, many of us think about the meaning of the social quarantine that has been forced upon us.  One thing is clear: Quarantine disconnects the individual from society.

This disconnection places us in a different existential state.  Our usual and blessed state includes a social life. This is emotionally healthy.  A person who lives alone for an extended period of time can go crazy; and even when we think of moral repair, we can?t shut ourselves away.  Morality takes on meaning only when a person comes in contact with others and creates relationships.  Quarantine is, therefore, an unusual state of being. Sometimes we have to leave our normal state and experience life differently ? alone.

A person who sins, especially sins between himself and others, must go into quarantine.  Thus, he has the opportunity to separate himself from the peer pressure that stands in contrast with his own values, to relieve himself from the pressures that stem from seeking social status and respect.  When a person is alone, he has the ability to be seriously introspective, to discover his hidden desires, his latent fears, and his unique strengths.  This period of quarantine can be a spring board to a higher-quality life, a repaired life.

May we merit the fulfillment of the verse: ?No harm will befall you, nor will a plague draw near to your tent? (Psalms 91), and may we return to good days while repairing our ways.



Today June 14, 2021

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