“These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing, when they are brought to the priest: The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them. If they have been healed of their defiling skin disease . . . ” — Leviticus 14:2–3
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Tazria-Metzora, from Leviticus 12:1—15:33. Tazria means “conceived,” and Metzora means “diseased.” The Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
In the first few verses of Leviticus, Chapter 14, we read about the healing process of a diseased individual who had been forced to live in isolation until he or she was completely cured. Verse two begins by outlining the procedure for cleansing when the diseased person was “brought to the priest.” However, verse three begins, “The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them . . .”
Did you catch the contradiction? Which is it? Does the diseased person go to the priest or does the priest go to the afflicted person? The answer is both.
A similar contradiction is found in the book of Lamentations: “Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return” (5:21). Are we asking for God to return us to Him by changing us from the inside out so that repentance is easy and natural for us? Or are we saying that we will return to God on our own, no matter how difficult that may be?
Again the answer is both. We ask that God both help us return to Him, and we also promise to make an effort to repent on our own. In the case of the diseased person, the afflicted went toward the priest and the priest also went out to the diseased. They met halfway.
The message in both situations is the same: In the quest for healing our souls, we don’t have to do it alone. Yes, we must put in the effort and do our very best, but we will also receive plenty of spiritual help along the way.
Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by our shortcomings and past mistakes that we feel stuck, unable to move closer to God. How can we begin a journey that seems so long and so difficult, one with a destination that we will probably never reach anyway?
Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” These words hold true for many situations, and they are especially helpful when we take the first step in repentance. We don’t have to know how we will succeed or when, and we don’t need to worry about how far up we have to climb.
Because as we learn from this week’s Torah portion, God will help us make our way to the top. We need to take the first steps and head in the right direction, but God will come out to greet us and meet us halfway.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President