Metzora 5782 (Shabbat HaGadol)
Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss
This week’s Torah portion Metzora speaks about contamination that can affect people’s homes. Leviticus 14: 34-36 says, “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague (nega tzaraat) upon your house in the land that you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the kohen, the priest saying, “something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” The priest enters the house to examine the plague…” Before there was the Board of Health, there was the Torah. Safety and physical and spiritual purity are important values of the Jewish community. Last week we read about skin inflammations and contagious diseases that can afflict individuals. This week we read that it is not only people that can become contaminated, but places as well.
This raises the question, “How do you make a space holy?” We always say that our sanctuary is a sacred place. We don’t bring food or beverages into the sanctuary. Many of us cover our heads with a kippa and wrap ourselves in tallitot, prayer shawls as a sign of respect and reverence. We act in a serious and respectful manner when we are in this sacred place. We work to keep it in good condition.
What makes this space holy? Is it the ritual garments that we wear, the prayers we recite here, or is it the fact that we come together here as a community? For each of us the sanctuary fulfills a different need. And in order to maintain its sanctity-it takes work. The music, your preparation in learning the prayers and understanding the choreography, and the mood that is evoked when you are within these walls are all aspects of creating a sacred space.
In addition to being a sacred space we also hope that the synagogue is a safe space for each of us. A sacred space is a place that is inclusive, welcoming and makes people feel comfortable. It is a place where we feel free to listen to diverse viewpoints and yet know that we are all there for the common good.
It is interesting to note that words that the owner is instructed to use when contacting the priest. He is to say, “Something like a plague has appeared in my house.” Why such vague language? Couldn’t one be able to decipher if there is contamination or impurity within one’s home? You wouldn’t call pest control and say, “Something like ants are crawling in my home.” You wouldn’t call the electrician, and say, “there appears to be a power outage.”
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson suggests this is a way of creating a sense of religious and intellectual humility. He points out that the way in which we acquire knowledge and wisdom is limited by our own five senses, our own life experiences and our own subjective intuition. In other words, each of us comes with our preconceived notions and biases. We can only see what our eyes will see.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism used to tell a story of a king who was a master of illusion. He could make people see things that weren’t really there. More than anything else, the king wanted his people to come and be close to him. But the people were always too busy. The farmers needed to milk the cows, the sailors had to scrub the decks, and the shopkeepers had to sell their wares. So the lonely king devised a plan.
He built around himself a magnificent but illusory castle. Then he sent out invitations to everyone in his kingdom, “You are personally invited to come and be close to the king. But it will not be easy; the king is hidden in a great castle.”
“What a challenge,” his subjects said, as they hurried to the castle. When they arrived, they found that the walls were high, the windows barred and the gate bolted. There seemed no way to enter. So, one by one they gave up and went home.” It is like that too, the Baal Shem Tov would say, “We start out eagerly looking for God but get distracted easily and give up the search.”
Being a part of community helps us expand our understanding as we learn from each other. Being part of a larger community helps us keep things in perspective—to grow from a narrow vision to a bigger picture.
May we continue to learn and grow from one another, keep a wide perspective, and seek to infuse our spaces with holiness.