By Amanda Wachstein, NFTY-PAR Advisor
Spring Kallah D’var 2013
Shabbat shalom! A few PAR Board meetings ago, when we started to plan Spring Kallah, we discussed the Shabbat morning t’filah. We went around the room discussing ideas and themes and then shared suggestions for Torah readers and the aliyot. Then it was time to see which Board member wanted to write the d’var. Joey was asking his fellow Board members who wanted to write it and several posed interest. Joey then looked at me, with his serious face and voice and said….”Amanda, I think you should write it!” That was then followed with the rest of the Board’s seal of approval so therefore, I stand before you this morning to offer a d’var.
I think we take for granted the notion of cleanliness in today’s world. We take advantage of all of our incredible toiletry options…from 40 different shampoos and conditioners to bars of soap to body wash to body scrubs; and I surely don’t have time to list all of the facial products offered. We absolutely take a warm shower for granted. In fact, we take the water we have, the inside bathrooms we have and the sewers we use all for granted.
Raise your hand if you have ever felt like a leper? Well, if not a leper, what about a social outcast? Someone who did not belong in a certain group in our society? Raise your hand if all your friends were sitting a table and made no room for you so you had to find another table? Raise your hand if you have felt like a small fish in a large pond…being pushed out of the way for someone else.
And so, we arrive at this text in the parshat M’tzora: “This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time that he is to be cleansed. When it has been reported to the priest, the priest shall go outside the camp. And the priest sees that the leper has been healed of his scaly affliction.” M’tzora begins with a detailed description of the rituals that must take place in order for the person suffering from tzaraat, “affliction”, to return to the community. Sometimes translated as “leprosy”, tzaraat is not really what we think of leprosy today but more on the lines of a filthy, un-kept person.
In trying to make sense of the whole idea of tzaraat as it appears in last week’s parsha and this week’s readings, the Rabbis go into great detail to show that the text does not see the priest as the doctor. His responsibility is not to heal a physical ailment. However, they suggest instead, that this disease is a punishment of the soul for committing the sin of l’shon hara (gossiping) about others. Now I know no one in this room, me included, has not participated in gossip. Unfortunately everyone does at sometime.
You can also interpret the text to refer to either a physical or a spiritual malady, or even a sickness of both body and soul. This then brings us back to the rabbinic belief that body and soul are a unified whole and should not be seen as separate from each other.
As a NFTY Advisor, I worry a great deal about the implications of the way young people view the body-soul dichotomy, although they don’t realize they are doing so. For many teens, it is important to be part of a specific club or group of friends. Many teens are so preoccupied with their bodies that they forget about the life of the soul and mind. Similarly, all too often those who are studious often forget about balance and taking care of their bodies. Unfortunately, the same attitudes, lifestyles and habits can be seen in the lives of your parents.
Each year when it is time to read this parsha, we quickly brush aside these texts too quickly. After all, they have so little to do with our lives today. How many lepers do you know? And yet, I would argue that this double parsha gives us an opportunity to raise important, life-affirming issues, especially with young, teenage adults – issues of health of the body and the soul, issues of moderation and control of ourselves –our whole selves- and issues of identity.
It is up to each of us to maintain a balance and a healthy lifestyle. Every NFTYite is over-committed to school, activities, clubs, shows, TYGs, NFTY, friends, family…the list goes on. Our nefesh, our embodied soul – is all ours. We only receive one body and how you take care of it is truly in your own hands now that all of you are old enough to make those decisions mostly for yourselves. I hope the next time you are asked to do something else or accept another responsibility or offered that 4th donut, you will take a step back and think about what’s best for your body in the longer term even though the immediate, seems most important.
Our NFTY community supports and appreciates everyone who joins us. Everyone is accepted here, no matter what your lifestyle is like at home…whether you are a leper, a social outcast, a clean freak, a book worm, a theater geek, an artist, an athlete….it does not matter once you walk into our kehillah kedoshah….you are a NFTYite!