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The Message of Isolation

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At this time, when we are facing the coronavirus epidemic, I believe we should be doing two things: 1) meticulously follow all of the safety guidelines issued by our medical experts and all government ordinances, and 2) involve ourselves in some serious introspection and to use this plague as a catalyst to recalibrate our spiritual lives. While we may never know the reasons why the Almighty has brought this calamity upon us, we are obligated to apply our minds and hearts to all possible lessons that God may be communicating with us.

We have all been forced to isolate and remove ourselves from our societies. What is the message here? Where do we find this concept of isolation from society in the Torah? The Torah tells us that a person that has been afflicted with tzara’at (a biblical skin affliction) is obligated to remove him/herself from society and dwell separately while he/she undergoes a purification process. The Talmud (Arachin 16a) teaches us that tzara’at is contracted due to seven things: 1) lashon ha-ra, 2) murder, 3) false oaths, 4) sexual immorality, 5) arrogance, 6) theft, and 7) stinginess. All of these sins involve a person destroying, disregarding, and disrespecting members of society. The Torah commands a person who does not value and appreciate society and its members, to leave society and remain in isolation. A person struck with tzara’at would engage in a process of self-reflection, the goal of which would be to discover and appreciate the value of society and its members. This internal process would result in the person healing from tzara’at, and, thus, being allowed to return to society.

The message for us is clear. We need to be asking ourselves a number of questions: Do we speak badly of others? Do we see society as merely a means to benefit ourselves? Do we appreciate others and society as we should? Is there more we can do for others? Now that our societies are somewhat disbanded, and we see the consequences of societal isolation all around us, let us humbly realize our interdependence on one another as human beings, and renew our appreciation of others, our communities, and our societies.

As we approach the Passover holiday, we recall that our exodus from Egypt began with Joseph speaking badly of his brothers. We know that the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. In our isolation, G-d is reminding us that before the third Beit Hamikdash (Temple) is built and the ultimate unity of the Jewish people and all of mankind is restored, we need to inject more love, appreciation, and gratitude towards others into our world.