“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affliction on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests.’ ”
— Leviticus 13:1-2
Needless to say, this is not a portion happily greeted by b’nai mitzva students. In fact, it is a portion that is not happily greeted by adults as well. In fact, the rabbis recognized that it would not be happily greeted and combined two portions into one whenever they could. I call it the icky, gooey, itchy portion.
That being said, life is icky, gooey and itchy at times, and so this is a particularly relevant, true-to-life portion for us. The question is, how do we react when life is not clean and pure?
To me, the biblical person identified in this portion is a role model. Recognizing the impact that his affliction, if confirmed by the priest, will have on the community and assuming that it is he himself who reports it to Aaron the priest or one of his sons, this man lives Hillel’s words: If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? (I do acknowledge that Hillel would not verbalize these words for approximately a millennium from when our man lived.)
Our man does not hide the swelling, rash or discoloration. His is true courage and we could learn from him. How many of us don’t get an annual physical or the age-related tests such as mammogram and colonoscopy because we just don’t want to know? And when we do go, how many of us hide the diagnosis and treatment so as not to worry our loved ones, yet in so (not) doing, create a secondary illness: that of secrecy?
Our man reports it to Aaron or to his sons, for if he does not, he realizes that he can make the whole camp unclean. He is deeply concerned about those around him and, again, we could learn from him.
Though not an issue of ritual impurity as in our passage, but physical illness, how many of us push on and go to work when ill, even though it could affect our co-workers, clients and students? Beyond a physical level, how big do our concentric circles of care extend? School? Neighborhood? Town? County? Country? Does the way you vote include many circles? Or within the Jewish community: Synagogue? Movement? Local community? American Jewry? World Jewry? Does the way you donate time and resources include many circles?
Our man reported it. He didn’t wait; he didn’t find other things he had to do first, he didn’t invent excuses, and we could learn from him. He is not the object of the passage; he is the subject. He is a role model, and we could learn from him.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)