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Two Friends
By David Ignatow

I have something to tell you.
I’m listening.
I’m dying.
I’m sorry to hear.
I’m growing old.
It’s terrible.
It is. I thought you should know
Of course and I’m sorry. Keep in touch.
I will and you too.
And let me know what’s new.
Certainly, though it can’t be much.
And stay well.
And you too.
And go slow.
And you too.

 

A friend of mine recently heard a comment that left him stunned. A colleague told him that his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, who had recently lost her husband of five decades, told her son, “You should know, being alone is worse than Auschwitz!”

At first glance, Parshas Tazria seems to have limited relevance to our daily lives. Although the lesson of the severity of slander and gossip is as applicable as ever, the details about the laws of the metzora and the process of his purification seem to be non-applicable without the Bais HaMikdash. However, if one examines the process more deeply there are tremendously pertinent ideas to be gleaned from the Torah’s timeless words.

The law is that the metzora is obligated to leave the Jewish camp and dwell in solitude until the tzara’as is pronounced healed by a kohain. “All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”[2]

Rashi[3] explains that tzara’as is punishment for slander, which causes husbands to become distanced from their wives and friends to become distanced from one another. Therefore, it is fitting that the punishment be isolation from society.[4]

 

The feeling of loneliness is not only the result of the metzora’s sociological state, as an outcast who was rejected from the community, on a more profound level the loneliness is internal, a sense of being scorned and banned from society. The metzora may in fact not have been completely alone; there may have been other metzoraim in his vicinity.[5] Yet his alienation ensures that he will still feel essentially “alone” and estranged.

This tragic and painful experience has existent parallels in our community. One of the tragic realities of our world is that of adolescents who are searching for identity and a social network falling into the depraved world of drugs and street-life. Their search to feel connected and part of something erroneously leads them to the mirage of brotherhood that the streets present. They have their “love-hug,” but it’s all disingenuous.[6] They may have fun together and they may even feel protected and connected but it’s not real. The “love” is a bond of commonality at best. They may be sitting together, but they are still all alone.

The book of Eicha, which expresses the profound grief that Yerushalayim experienced after the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and the exiling of the Jewish people, begins “Alas, she sits in solitude!” There is no greater pain than solitude and loneliness. That is the greatest tragedy of all.

Our society which seems so “connected” is actually mired in loneliness. People define their social circle by how many Facebook friends they have, how many people follow their tweets, and how many contact numbers are in their cellphones. But the overwhelming majority of those friendships are tenuous and superficial.[7]

Oprah Winfrey once quipped, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Our technologically advanced generation is so lonely – yearning for empathy, sensitivity, warmth, and care. The sense of community and the security of family is often sorely lacking.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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