Torah Readers Reflections


From leprosy to community. The importance of community is not just a Jewish value, but a universal one.
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The portion of Tazria deals with the concept of purity and impurity, particularly in relation to childbirth and skin diseases. While some of these laws may seem outdated or irrelevant to our modern lives, there are still important lessons that we can learn from them, particularly the importance of community.


In this portion, we learn about the isolation that is required for someone who has been afflicted with tzara'at, a skin disease commonly translated as leprosy. This isolation was not just a medical necessity, but also a spiritual one. It was meant to remind the individual of their need to repent and change their ways, and to protect the community from potential contamination.


This emphasis on community is not unique to Parashat Tazria. Throughout the Torah, we see numerous examples of the importance of community in Jewish life. In Deuteronomy 16:14, we are commanded to rejoice in the presence of God with our family and community during the festival of Sukkot. In Leviticus 23:3, we are told to observe the Sabbath as a community-wide celebration.


In fact, the very concept of Jewish law is built upon the idea of community. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, writes that "the whole structure of Jewish law is built on the principle that we live our lives in the presence of others." He goes on to explain that "the law of witnesses is a law about the importance of testimony, of bearing witness. The law of judges is a law about the importance of impartiality and judgment. The law of compensation is a law about the importance of restitution and reconciliation."


The importance of community is not just a Jewish value, but a universal one. In his book "Bowling Alone," sociologist Robert Putnam argues that in recent decades, Americans have become increasingly disconnected from one another. He writes that "we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often."


This isolation can have serious consequences for our health and well-being. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality rates, even after controlling for other factors such as age, gender, and health status.


So what can we learn from Parashat Tazria and other Jewish sources about the importance of community? First, we must remember that we are not alone in this world. We are part of a larger community, and our actions and choices have an impact on those around us. Second, we must recognize the value of community in providing support and connection in times of need. And third, we must make an effort to be an active and engaged member of our community, whether it be through volunteering, attending events, or simply reaching out to our neighbors.


In conclusion, Parashat Tazria reminds us of the importance of community in Jewish life, and the importance of community in our broader society. May we remember that we are not alone in this world, and strive to be active and engaged members of our communities, providing support and connection to those around us.


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