The opening words of the haftarah that we read for this parsha provide us with the clear connection to our parshiyot. “V’arba’ah anashim hayu metzora’im petach hasha’ar, And there were four metzora’im (lepers?) at the gate (of the city Shomron)” echoes the topic covered in the Torah reading: laws of contamination and purification of the metzora. The rest of the haftarah, however, seems to have little connection, if any, to the detailed laws of tumah and tahara that fill the parshiyot we read. There is, however, an important lesson we can learn from the salvation brought to Israel by Hashem through these four metzora’im.
In its comprehensive review of the laws of tzaraat, the Torah condemns the leper to isolation—“badad yeshev,” he must remain isolated, outside of the Israelite camp. As our haftarah relates, these “lepers” were, indeed, relegated to a “lonely” area, isolated outside of the city. I would imagine that such a punishment, a limited form of “solitary confinement,” would have the effect of alienating these impure individuals. How understandable it would have been for these abandoned individuals to turn their back on the community that had treated them in such a fashion. Indeed, a close reading of the episode seems to indicate that these metzora’im may have well grappled with these feelings.
Upon discovering that the enemy camp had been abandoned and that the Aramean army had left all their belongings and provisions behind, these starving people pounced upon the booty to satisfy their hunger and thirst. Certainly, this was an understandable reaction by the suffering outcasts. But as they began to take the wealth that the enemy left behind, they paused, considered and agreed that it would be wrong of them to enrich themselves and thereby delay spreading the news to their starving brethren in the city. “We would be considered sinful” they said, if they did not return to the city before dawn to report on their findings.
These people had been “rejected,” in a sense, by their own and yet they understood that despite being relegated to dwell outside the city, they were still part of Am Yisrael, and remained connected to the body politic. They were still expected to act responsibly.
The Israelites who remained in the city also understood that these “outcasts” were not cast out of the nation. They did not question the fact that their salvation had come through those who were exiled “out of the camp.” They didn’t reject their report or their help. They too recognized that even those who might have sinned and been separated from the nation were still part and parcel of their nation.
This year, when we’ve all been isolated from our batei knesset, our families and our neighbors, we may be tempted to focus inward—on ourselves and those who remain within the walls of our homes. But we’ve learned from these metzora’im and we have responded magnificently!! During these dark and difficult days we have proven that we care for others: for the elderly, who spend lonely days with little in their cupboard, for the ill, who need our concern and our prayers and for those who continue to take care of the sick and whom we honor and thank. Even when we are “outside” of the camp we refuse to focus upon ourselves alone because we recognize that we are all part of that camp. And perhaps, being sent outside of the camp is not so much a punishment as it is a time to ponder how connected we truly are to each other.
On this Shabbat that follows Yom Ha’atzmaut, we must keep in mind this important lesson. The establishment of our state was a miracle wrought by Hashem and brought to fruition by those who, many mistakenly believed, were “outside of the camp,” distant and separated from the Jewish nation and Jewish values. And yet, Hashem chose them to help bring His salvation to His suffering people, because He recognized that they never felt that distant; that they were never truly “outsiders.”
Galut, the exile, was long and painful. During this time of geulah, of ingathering, we dare not regard any Jew as being “outside of the camp.”
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.