The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Last week, I had the privilege of attending the spring meeting of Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action as a representative of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Together with lay leaders and Jewish professionals, led by the phenomenal RAC staff, we discussed the future of tikkun olam for the Reform movement and heard from experts and activists about today’s pressing social justice issues. Much of the conversation focused on those on the margins of society.
Interestingly, that is also the main topic of the Torah portions over the last two weeks, Tazria and Metzora. The chapters from two weeks ago describe how the community dealt with people infected with a skin ailment. Ultimately, we are taught, they are banished from the community, put outside the camp, and isolated until they heal. Last week’s portion describes the procedure for re-admittance. The priest would go outside the camp to where the unclean person was. There they would engage in an elaborate ritual of cleansing, and the person would be pronounced clean. Once clean, the person would be brought back into the camp.
I am a rabbi, not a medical doctor or a social worker. But I know that I stand as spiritual heir to the priests of our past. And, in truth, God declares to Moses in the wilderness that all the Israelites are to be “a realm of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). And so it is incumbent upon all of us today to relate to those who dwell outside the camp, or community, especially those whom society has placed outside. It is our role to find some way to bring them back in.
And so let us acknowledge all those who are outside the camp, and let us pronounce them “clean” and part of our community. We hereby regard as clean: the homeless and the helpless, who search for shelter; the ill and infirm, who require healing; the diseased, and those with disabilities. We will bring in the the members of our community who are in the minority, by race, by class, by creed, or by sexual orientation or gender identity, who have been placed “outside the camp” due to the color of their skin, the funds in their wallet, the sentiments of their faith, the manifestation of their love, or their sense of self. We regard as clean anyone who has been stigmatized or alienated by difference, anyone who has, intentionally or inadvertently, been placed outside the camp. Let us pledge to bring them in.
And how do we do this? Our prophet Isaiah showed us the path: “Unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke … let the oppressed go free … share [our] bread with the hungry, and … take the wretched poor into [our] home. When [we ] see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore [our] own kin” (Isaiah 58:6-7). We know what we must do. Everyone must be brought inside the camp, we are all core members of our communities.
In just a few short days, we will gather around our Passover tables with family and friends. We will read the story of going out of Egypt, of redemption from bondage. And we will say, Ha Lachma Anya, “This is the bread of affliction; let all who are hungry, come and eat.” In this season of redemption and renewal, let us work to fulfill that pledge. Let us see those outside the bounds of our community, and regard them as "clean." Let us together walk the path of justice and righteousness that leads everyone back to the community.
Rabbi David Widzer serves Temple Beth El of Northern Valley in Closter, NJ.