Sometimes the ideas for my musings come from unexpected places. I’ve actually been having a somewhat difficult time finding words to speak once again about Tazria-Metzora. I’ve sat down several times, each time doing the digital equivalent of crumbling up the paper and throwing it away. So I took a break from it.
As I was doing other chores this afternoon, I was also listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday. The topic was anti-biotic-resistant infections, and how they were on the rise yet again on our population.
Many interesting points were raised by the participants in the discussion, as well as by callers. We have a truly paradoxical situation here. Our efforts to prevent disease are actually working against us.
We’ve become an extremely germ-phobic society. We have anti-biotic agents that we build into our work surfaces, cookware, storage containers, clothing, linens, and more. Bottles of antiseptic hand wash are prevalent everywhere – even our supermarkets and big-box stores have anti-bacterial washing materials near their entrances. We’ve become ridiculously obsessed with preventing sickness.
As one expert on the radio said, it’s a pointless battle. It’s a battle between our intelligence and bacterial genes. The genes are going to win every time. It’s the job of every bacterial strain to find a way to survive. Survive it will. Put it in the presence of many anti-biotics, and evolutionary pressures will force the dominance of an anti-biotic resistant strain. One expert suggested that we should simply stop all the “routine” uses of anti-biotics (for example, in animal feed) and simply allow the normal, non-resistant strains of bacteria to thrive. This will reduce the presence of the resistant strains, an we can then treat those who get sick from the ordinary strains as necessary (but not too excess, or we’re back in the same vicious cycle.)
What’s all this to do with our parasha? Well, some obvious questions come to mind. Is this ancient obsession with skin diseases, molds, etc. really a good idea? Could such a strong focus on these conditions actually be counter-productive, and actually increase their occurrence?
Of course, like so much else in the Torah, this could all be metaphorical-really being about “spiritual rot” as I’ve written about in these musings in the past. Nevertheless, isolating one with an obvious skin condition from the rest of the community seems like a reasonably prudent idea, especially considering that they really had no clear knowledge or idea about disease transmission. (Of course, just as some still insist that the dietary laws were rudimentary forms of health codes, they say the same of the rules in Tazria-Metzora. I don’t buy it, personally, but I also agree with the idea that what we think of as primitive societies aren’t always so primitive.)
So, if this is all about spiritual rot, is there still a connection? Yes. Look at how obsessed we are these days about religion and G”d. Books critical of and supportive of religion and a belief in G”d. It’s a hot topic. It’s far too easy for us to get all wrapped up in a debate that maybe we really don’t need to be having. Or perhaps this debate is just what is needed to sustain the necessary balance between resistant and non-resistant strains of belief. Both sides in this debate are coming on strong. The opponents of religion see religion as a bacteria that we need to wipe out. Yet there seems to be an even stronger strain of resistant believers coming into existence. Maybe if the opponents of religion eased off on their attack, there’d be less of the fanatical resistant strains of believers. Similarly, maybe if people of faith stopped hitting back so hard at their opponents, they, too, would decrease in numbers, and a more natural balance could be restored to our society.
You know, with all the internal struggles and doubt we all deal with on a daily basis, with our constant struggle to be true (or deliberately untrue) to ethical and religious principals, it’s no wonder we aren’t all struggling with outward skin conditions that betray our inner turmoil.
Or maybe it’s not us showing these manifestations, but our greater society itself? Is our society showing physical manifestations of the spiritual rot that may be undermining our social structure? What might these manifestations be? (Could the Holocaust have been one of them?) Tough questions to ask. Even tougher to answer. enjoy the struggle.
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester