“Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have”
bBaba Metsia 59b
I said it once before and I say it again, I have a problem with the book of Leviticus. I always struggle to find something I can relate to, but that’s life I guess. Torah (the five books of Moses) reflects life, wherein there is struggle, strife, romance, and uneasy episodes.
This week’s portion is in the words of one of my “Facebook friends” legit disgusting. I feel that this disgust doesn’t just come from the blemishes summed up in our parasha (which talks about different forms of leprosy), but more so in the way that people who are having blemishes are treated. We can reason a lot in favour of the authors of the book of Leviticus by saying that the medical standards weren’t back then as they are now. But the true question would be: would we treat people who are not like us in a different way than the book of Leviticus is teaching us?
Whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, we often tend to focus on aspects which make us different. Often these oppositions are binary: male/ female, gay/ straight, Jew/ non-Jew – and how are we coping? Our parasha tells us, that if our neighbour is unclean (i.e. leprous) he shall go around shouting that he is unclean and shall live alone until he is healed.
Today, when something is wrong with us, we don’t announce it, nobody knows, yet we feel very alone – and not always we find a cure.
Last week Prince Harry shared that he had tremendous difficulty coping with the loss of his mother when he was just 12 years old. He describes how he was struggling with it for more than twenty years. He did not announce he wasn’t coping, he wasn’t physically alone but he definitely felt alone.
Asking for awareness of mental health, Prince William, Lady Gaga and others volunteered to become the faces of the Together Campaign. Trying to create a space wherein people with mental health issues can feel supported and people without mental health issues can feel informed. Luckily the impetus of this campaign is different than what Leviticus wants. Instead of treating things we may not understand as leprous (by pushing people who are being called blemished to the outskirts of society) we want to create a society where everyone is welcome and informed.
Unfortunately this campaign, the rise of xenophobic parties across Europe and the rise of attacks with a racist motive are examples of the fact that this society, the society that we want, does not exist yet. There are still (groups of) people treated as lepers and sometimes, even without knowing, we find ourselves doing that as well.
But let us at least start by acknowledging that you are different from me and I am different from you, and that is okay. We are allowed to be different. It is this difference that makes it exciting to get to know you. Whether you are a Jew or not, whether you have a mental health issue or not, whether you live in my neighbourhood or not, meeting you might enrich my life and hopefully you meeting me might enrich yours.
Peter Luijendijk 1st year rabbinic student