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Social Nation

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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.

 

Parshas HaChodesh[8] details the laws of the Korbon Pesach brought upon the mizbayach just prior to the onset of the Yom Tov. The law is that the meat of the offering must be eaten with a group of pre-registered members. If a person did not register before the offering was brought, he could not partake of its meat. “Speak to the Assembly of Israel saying: On the tenth of this month, they shall take for themselves, every man a lamb, according to their father’s household, a lamb for a household. If the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is near to his house shall take, according to the number of people; everyone in proportion to his eating, shall you be counted for the lamb.”[9]

One of the underlying themes of the Korbon Pesach was fostering a sense of community. As the burgeoning nation made its final preparation for the mass exodus the following day, they were to sit together with their families and neighbors, not only in a display of freedom and fearlessness from their former captors, but also with a mood of camaraderie and closeness. They were not a band of freed slaves who would be leaving Egypt, but a proud nation.

In the eloquent words of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, “A people, a nation, a ‘social’ community, a state, should arise from this redemption, whose whole ‘social’ existence was to have its roots in G-d, to be built up by Him, rest on Him, be arranged and constituted by Him, and be dedicated to Him. With the Pesach offering, G-d laid the foundation stone of this edifice.”

 

A person can be surrounded by people, he can even be the center of attention, such as a professional athlete with thousands of people cheering for him, and yet feel completely alone. Conversely, a person may be physically alone – far from his friends and family – and yet feel very connected to something beyond himself.

The metzora who caused dissidence and strife among others must suffer the feeling of loneliness. He must leave, not only the physical borders of the community, but the psychological feeling of belonging and being connected.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Korbon Pesach. It promoted a feeling of connectedness – that every Jew, no matter where he is in the world, is part of a nation and a community, whose members genuinely care for each other and feel that they are inextricably bound to each other.

 


[1] For those readers who have a hard time understanding poetry (as I did when my eleventh grade English teacher gave this out to our class) this poem is about two conversing “friends” who obviously don’t really care about each other.

[2]13:46

[3] Quoting the Gemara Arachin 16b

[4] Last year I had the privilege to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel as part of the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinic Mission. It was the Shabbos of Parshas Tazria, and on Friday night after the seudah we had the pleasure of hearing some thoughts from Rabbi Jonathon Rosenblatt, rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, who joined us on the tour. The basic idea presented here is based on that discussion.

[5] There is a discussion among the poskim whether metzoraim are allowed to be together in their place of isolation.

[6] Rabbi Rosenblatt noted that the insincerity of the “love” becomes apparent when funds run out. “Hey buddy, do me a solid and lend me on credit.” “No man, I need the cash!”

[7] Some of those friendships fall into the category of “I’ll let you list me as a friend if I can list you as one of my friends.”

[8] Special reading from Parshas Bo read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

[9] Shemos 12:3-4

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead in Monsey NY. He is also Guidance Counselor/Rebbe in ASHAR and Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. His website is www.stamtorah.info. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com.


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