כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֑ה וְנָתַתִּי֙ נֶ֣גַע צָרַ֔עַת בְּבֵ֖ית אֶ֥רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶֽם׃
14:34 When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess,
וּבָא֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֣וֹ הַבַּ֔יִת וְהִגִּ֥יד לַכֹּהֵ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר כְּנֶ֕גַע נִרְאָ֥ה לִ֖י בַּבָּֽיִת׃
14:35 the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.”
OK. I’m following directions. כְּנֶ֕גַע נִרְאָ֥ה לִ֖י בַּבָּֽיִת׃. K’nega nira li babayit.
Something like a plague has appeared on my house. In fact, something like a plague has appeared on both my houses – the one I call home, and the one that is the home of my people.
I come to you as you are a priest, and I am commanded to tell you this news. You, in turn, are commanded to order the house cleared out so that you may examine it, and so that nothing else can possibly become contaminated.
So, come take a look. See those streaks on the walls there. I have some ideas as to what might be causing them.
[Insert here your litany of ways in which our house, aka the United States of America, has become unclean]
I had originally included my own list, but I think it’s better as an interactive exercise. It also allows you, the reader, to choose the perspective. You can make that perspective political, cultural, religious, ethical, philosophical, etc. and/or any combination of those. I would urge you, at first, to try and iterate as many of those as you can off the top of your head, before resorting to entering things like “the worst things x has done since becoming President” into a Google search. I think you may find this an interesting exercise. You probably won’t have trouble creating an initial list. Then you’ll dig online and discover how the totality of your list pales in comparison to all that you can discover online. There is value in those “oh yeah, I forgot about that” moments. Creating so many moments that one tends to forget some of them is exactly the effect “they” are after, whomever your “they” is. Distraction upon distraction upon distraction. Getting that list in one place where you can appreciate its enormity is a useful exercise.
It can be an interesting exercise to try and classify the various items on your list as to where they come into conflict with Jewish teachings and values. I’ve seen a few of those exercises already out there on the internet.
Last week, I taught an adult ed session on Jewish views of lying. It’s a typically mixed bag. Motivation matters. Topic matters. Intent matters. Situation matters. The people involved matters. I offer this as a caution. In our righteous indignation, we sometimes engage in blanket critiques that aren’t as nuanced as they could be. (To be honest, I hate having to write that, but if I don’t at least remind myself, I am liable to be carried to extremes by my own righteous indignation and potentially do things I might later regret.)
Then this week comes the latest blow. For a moment, at least, there was hope that the citizens of Israel might vote to restore some sanity (and values) to their government. Alas, that appears not to be the case.
Israel, as the home of my people, also appears to be suffering from something like a plague.
I wrote on Facebook:
What's left? I live in a United States of America that elected a government I cannot endorse and have difficulty understanding or accepting, and now that the Israeli people have spoken, they, too, have made a choice I cannot endorse and have difficulty accepting or understanding. Who are my people now? At least I can't be accused of dual loyalties now. Only dual disloyalties (which is an inaccurate accusation as I remain a loyal American citizen, and a passionate supporter of the dream of what Israel can be.) There was a time when terms like the "loyal opposition" were embraced. That is no longer the world in which we live. I am very, very saddened.
It is not always safe to speak openly and critically about Israel in the US Jewish community. Those of us who love Israel so much that we dare to call her to task for her failures are sometimes accused of disloyalty, even anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. (Though even we can be accused of the anti-Semitic dual loyalty trope, it seems.)
I truly love Israel. I have been there enough times to know the special connection one feels to the land when one is there. Though it may have evolved and changed, the religion which I practice has its origins there. There is clear, unambiguous historical evidence that the Jewish people lived there, starting at least 3500 years ago, and had nation states. Despite the many times that control of the land passed from one empire or nation to another, there has been a continuous Jewish presence there. Given our historic and long connection to the land, it does make sense for us to have a modern nation state in the region. In light of the Shoah, having a Jewish state as a place of refuge also makes sense.
Make no mistake. I am proud of Israel. It has done amazing things. It has made the desert bloom. It has been a leader in agriculture , medicine, and technology. It is a democratic state in a part of the world that is sadly lacking in them. It does grant rights to all its citizens, and has, at least outwardly, strived to be an accepting society.
Israel is under fairly constant threat. Setting aside arguments that sometimes Israel herself contributes to making herself a target, no country should be subject, on a routine basis, to the acts of terrorism and random rocket attacks that Israel suffers. Israel is an important bastion in the Levant. Israel is a remedy for the ever-present existential threat against Jews that history has shown us always seem to exist in this world.
That being said, we need to have the priest come examine the red and green stains on the walls of our Israeli home to check for plague. I recommend to you the same exercise as before – come up with your own list of problems and issues that have plagued medinat Yisrael since its birth (and even before that) and then broaden that list with some online searching.
As with our own US house, you can frame your list of medinat Yisrael’s unclean things as it works for you. You could be the most ardent supporter of Israel, even a fervent “Israel right or wrong” type and still find items for your list (and if you don’t, I would question your self-honesty, and the ethical construct that allows you to gloss over obvious faults.)
[Insert here your litany of ways in which Jewish house, aka Israel, has become unclean]
A dozen years ago Rabbi Brad Hirschfield published his remarkable book, which I still use to guide me: “You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.” If an orthodox rabbi from Chicago who made aliyah in the 80s and became a rabid “greater biblical Israel” fanatical Israeli settler can evolve into an intrafaith and interfaith bridge builder, there is hope for this world.
We don’t have to agree about these issues. You may not have the same issues and qualms about the things which cause me to worry about the plagues that have erupted in our American and Israeli homes. Live and be well.
There are Jews who are perfectly happy with everything that is happening in this country under this administration, and in Israel under its administration. There are Jews (like me) who are equally unhappy with both administrations. Then there are Jews who are geshrying about what is happening here in the United States of America but continue to give Israel and Bibi a pass. I may not share such a belief, but I do believe I have some understanding of the motivations and reasonings behind them, and believe they are, most often, well-intentioned, and based on rational concerns and fears.
I love Israel. I also love the diaspora – and I think we’ve allowed ourselves to develop a Jewish inferiority complex relative to Israel, and it’s time to look at that, and our role as a diaspora in the perpetuation of Judaism, and not leaving our survival totally dependent upon Israel as its burden. Personally, I think we have passed many potential crossroads over the last few decades, and failed to even consider potential alternate paths. The time has come for exploring new options, new possibilities, new understandings of Judaism, Zionism, ahavat Yisrael, Colonialism, hasbara, Jewish Education, and more. We have to be willing to challenge all the underlying and accepted understandings and conventions. Reconsidering them doesn’t mean we will change them all, but if we don’t consider the entirety, it won’t be a thorough effort. I have thought and continue to think about these and related issues. I’ve started to come to some conclusions, but I have always been the kind of person who continues to study issues from every angle even when I have developed a particular opinion. I’m happy to discuss this with folks at any time.
וְהִזַּרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִטֻּמְאָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֤א יָמֻ֙תוּ֙ בְּטֻמְאָתָ֔ם בְּטַמְּאָ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁכָּנִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them.
We’ve been warned.
©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha:
Tazria-Metzora 5778 - Excessive Prevention (Redux 5770)
Tazria-Metzora 5777 - The Overlooked Lesson (Revisiting 5767)
Tazria-Metzora 5775 - Singing a Song of Leprosy Again
Tazria-M'tzora 5773-Even Lepers Bring Good News-Redux, Revised, & Expanded
Tazria-Metzora 5772 - We Are the Lepers
Tazria-Metzora 5770 - Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M'tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 - Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Stuents
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy