Have you ever felt like an outcast? Have you ever had a sense of “not belonging” … isolated … rejected … shunned like a social leper?
As social creatures, whose sense of well being is dependent on interactions with others, feeling separate and apart can be most distressing to our psyches. None of us are immune to the occasional experience of existential loneliness, and rejection and abandonment can be especially devastating to children.
The Torah addresses the problem of the social outcast in this week’s reading, which at first glance may seem obscure and irrelevant to our modern times. For the Torah discusses here the metzora, a person afflicted with a spiritual, leper-like disease who was sequestered from the community and banished to live alone outside of the camp until he was healed. But upon a deeper look, the “law of the leper” contains some very relevant lessons to our lives today concerning those who feel shunned by society for whatever reason.
The Torah considers this so important that it devotes two full chapters (comprising nearly 100 verses) – in Parshat Tazria and Parshat Metzora – to the subject. And odd as it may seem, the introduction to the discussion of the leper does not mention anything repellent at all. Indeed, it speaks of a pure miracle … conception and childbirth.
Another puzzle concerning the leper is introduced by the Talmud, which describes the Messiah – of all people – as a leper! So what are we to make of these paradoxes?
In tackling these questions, this sermon arrives at some surprising answers about rebirth – a timely topic just a couple of weeks after Passover, when we celebrated climbing out of the pits of Mitzrayim (a word which shares its root with metzora).
Along the way, this sermon explores the teenage phenomenon known as “cyber-bullying” with which young people isolate some of their numbers as social lepers, and it relates the poignant story of one man who believed himself a born pariah.