Parashah of the week: Tazria-Metzora

“The cohen shall take some of the blood from the guilt offering” Leviticus 14:14


One of the strangest rituals elucidated in the Torah is that of preparing a person to re-enter the Israelite camp after having recovered from the illness of tzara’at, which is often misidentified as leprosy.

Seven days after the person has ceased to show any signs of the illness, one of the cohanim — or priests — performs a number of rituals upon and on the behalf of the cured person and then, after sacrificing an animal, takes some of its blood and daubs it on the right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe of the person who is about to re-enter the Israelite camp.

What fascinates me most about this encounter is that it is not unique to this situation. Rather, there is one other situation described in the Torah in which someone has the blood of a sacrifice daubed on the very same three body parts: the consecration of a priest before he enters into the service of God.

Which begs the question, what is the common thread between these two events?

While we might describe the work of the cohanim as being in the service of God, in truth they work in the service of the people.

It is cohanim who ensure the people offer the correct sacrifices in the correct manner, so that the people can express their gratitude or regret to God. To work as a cohen is to be in service of others.

And this is precisely what it means to be a member of a community. To live in society demands that we be in service of others.

When a person finds themselves in social isolation on account of their illness, they are unable to interact with others in any way whatsoever, let alone to be in the service of others.

The Talmud recounts that whenever the great sage Ben Zoma would see a large gathering of people, he would say “Blessed is the One Who created all these people to serve me” (Berachot 58a).

At first, this blessing might seem rather offensive, but Ben Zoma explains: when the first people were hungry, they had to plough, sow, reap, thresh, winnow, grind, sift, knead, and bake before they could eat bread. Yet Ben Zoma simply wakes in the morning to find bread already upon his table. He doesn’t see others as his servants.

Rather, he understands that without people working in service of everyone else in the community, there would be no society.

And this is precisely why I believe that the ritual for welcoming a person back into the community is the same as sanctifying a priest to begin his holy work: each of us — no matter our role or status in society — should always be there to support our fellow human beings.

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