This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Tazria-Metzora. It’s a double portion and it has a lot of information about how to identify sores that are oozing and contagious from sores that are passing and benign. Yes, there are ways to know. They include whether or not a hair spontaneously grew in the middle of the sore and what colour that hair is (I’ll spare you any more details than that). Buried in the material are relevant concepts for our world today, as is always the case with Torah…but with your permission, I’d rather not immerse myself in the details of leprosy and contagion right now.
AND HAPPILY, IT’S ALSO ROSH CHODESH!
It’s not just any Rosh Chodesh, it’s Iyar. It’s the second month of the Jewish ritual year (remember we have two new years: Rosh Hashanah, which is the universal for humanity and Nisan, which is when Pesach is, when we became the Jewish people). Iyar is the month after Nisan so it is the second month of our year – it’s the Jewish February. January has all the excitement and hype of newness and February has…28 days. Nothing special going on in February. It’s about the number of days, really similar to Iyar. Iyar is the month of counting the Omer as we head to Shavuot. The entire month is a month of counting, it’s about the number of days.
I have to imagine that’s why I always get funny messages about how Iyar is like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. Eeyore, the dismal donkey, the flatlined monotonic friend who cannot rise to the excitement of anything.
And so, sitting at home in isolation these days, I’ve decided to explore the Jewishness of the Hundred Acre Wood.
Pooh bear is the innocent kid who goes to the Jewish after-school program at shul. He can’t really see how much of the Jewish stuff fits into anything else, but in the end, Pooh finds that the information always speaks to him in some way. Eeyore is Iyar (how could I resist?), the ‘goes along to get along’ person in the shul who anchors and comforts with their very presence but seems to always know what’s wrong with what they just saw. Piglet is the loyal bubbly shul goer who gets excited about everything and is always the first to arrive. Tigger shows up at all our simchas, we’re not quite sure whose guest list he was on but he’s in every hora and kicks up the party to true joy. Rabbit heads the committees to make sure things get done. A stickler for detail, so Rabbit’s always worried about stuff we don’t usually pay attention to but, in the end, he’s the reason things run smoothly. Christopher Robin is the gabbai who makes sure things are as they should be. Kanga is every parent and Roo is every toddler. Owl is, of course, the Sage Talmudist. And now, with Gopher the industrialist, we have a complete Hundred Acre Minyan.
They are all in our shuls, in our communities, in our schools and, of course, in our homes. As isolation focuses us more and more toward reflection, it becomes clear that the Sages were correct when they said each person is a universe unto themselves. I am the Hundred Acre Wood and they are all living in me.
But aside from the philosophical approach to Winnie the Pooh, the month of Iyar does have a beautiful and incredibly relevant voice in these times. The Chassidic Masters highlighted that the acronym for ‘Iyar’, in Hebrew, stands for the verse “I am the God who heals you” (Ani ‘Yod Yod’ Rof’echa). And our ancient texts are filled with debates about whether we should rely on only God for healing and medicines. Is it a sin to see a doctor?
The overwhelming response, and certainly the ruling in Jewish law, is that we are to seek the remedies of science and the skills of physicians. The God who heals us does it directly within our souls and also by imbedding the knowledge of cures and remedies into the world and the ability to discover those cures into us. In other words, seeing a doctor is part of recognizing God as the Healer.
But the texts also make it clear that we must advocate for our own health and healing. When Hagar prays for her dying son, Ishmael, the angel first responds to the voice of the child – the one who is sick. While our prayers support others, their prayers are the leading voices.
So, in these trying times of challenge and virus, we support ourselves, we support others and we listen to make sure they are likewise supporting themselves. When speaking of themselves, we want to hear their voice of self-leadership. If not, it is a moment of reaching out we should never ignore.
And now I’ve discussed Rosh Chodesh, I took a trip to the Hundred Acre Shul, had a quick appointment with God the Healer, bringing us to today’s challenge of illness and contagion…and Parshat Tazria-Metzora was, in fact, relevant.
I knew we’d get there.