Driving north today on I-405, I looked over at a car next to me and read these words on a bumper sticker: “Maybe the hokey pokey is what it’s all about.”
“Love it,” I thought to myself. Now this is a clever bumper sticker — funny and thought-provoking. How could this bumper sticker in any way be thought-provoking, you might ask? Because it presents us with the question that most of us ask at some time in our lives: what is life really all about?
As I continued my drive toward Temple B’nai Torah, where I serve as assistant rabbi, my four-month-old baby in tow, I thought about how we — myself, my family, the Jewish people — are so lucky. We are lucky because we have the Torah and the tradition of weekly Torah study.
Whenever I am at a loss, whenever I am in need of guidance or inspiration, I open up the weekly parashah (Torah portion) and ask, “So, nu? What is it all about?” And if I look hard enough, if I study hard enough, if I turn it and turn it in my mind and heart — then the answers come to me. It is through regular Torah study and introspection I am able to find direction in my life and answer life’s big questions.
Last week’s Torah portion was Tazriah/Matzorah (Leviticus 21:1-15:33). It is, hands-down, the Torah portion most dreaded by B’nai Mitzvah students. This is because most of the portion deals with what early teens would deem as the “yucky” or the “icky” things in life — skin disease, bodily fluid, matters of women’s monthly cycle and childbirth. I think you get the picture.
Most people are slightly grossed out by the contents of this week’s Torah portion. And yet we still must strive to find out “what it’s all about” through the study of this portion too. Even the most seemingly foreign topics (foreign to our time and place that is) within the Torah offer us important messages about life and, most importantly, how we should live.
What can we learn about how to live our lives from skin diseases? In the Torah the Jewish people are told by God to be a holy nation, a nation of priests. In this week’s portion we learn about how one of the many, many jobs the priests did in ancient Israelite society was to inspect the bodily sores of the community members and decide whether or not an individual was infected with leprosy.
The priest is told by God through Moses and Aaron to see if there is swelling, a rash or discoloration. The priest is told by God to look closely, to really get their noses in there and check out the skin disease. Leprosy is not a huge issue in our time, at least not in our own society. Thank goodness the lessons we learn from our Torah study are most often not supposed to be literal!
What I learn from this portion is that as a Jew, as a member of a nation of priests, it is my duty to draw myself close to those things and people within society that repel everyone else. If it is an issue, a person, a place that no one else wants to touch, that others deem as yucky — then as a Jew I need to stick my nose up in there and get involved.
Helping the castoffs, the sick, the untouchables, the isolated, the grungy, the eccentric, the person who is down on his luck — all those our society deems lepers. It is our responsibility to be priestly in regard to these matters — to be both a loving presence and a leader.
You can carry this lesson of drawing close to the “leper” to a societal level and dedicate yourself to helping the homeless, the mentally ill, or those ignored and forgotten veterans who have been wounded in our current war. You can also carry this lesson into your workplace or educational environment and reach out to someone who is going through a hard time (divorce, illness, and financial problems).
This might seem like hard work or too much for one individual or one nation to take on. But we cannot truly address the relevance of life itself unless we are willing to take on the commitment we have to God in being partners in creating holiness in this world.
At the end of the day, each and every day, bring holiness into this world through our daily acts is what it is all about. Find out how to bring greater holiness into the world through your own life by engaging in regular Torah study and introspection. Find out through Torah study what it all about.
Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg commutes from her home in Olympia to serve the members of Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue. While in the car she listens to NPR and chick lit books on tape, enjoys the views of Mt. Rainier and keeps an eye out for humorous and/or inspirational bumper stickers.