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Parshas Tazria/Metzora - The Mask: Hiding or Preventing        30 Nissan 5780

05/08/2020 05:15:58 PM


Parshas Tazria/Metzora - The Mask: Hiding or Preventing

Human beings need social interaction to exist on many levels: personal relationships, including family and friends and professional, including business and academic interactions, and so forth.. We are now bearing witness to the difficulties and challenges related to Covid-19 that have struck people throughout the world. My world has also been tainted in many ways, but I will highlight two of them that are distant yet related.

The world of ZOOM and other meeting/teaching platforms have exploded to meet the needs of social interaction, continuation of business meetings and teaching from pre-school to graduate programs. We, too, at Beth Jacob have joined this world in order to maintain a virtual Shul for davening, learning, and disseminating information to members and to the outlying Jewish community. As is true regarding everything in life, nothing is perfect, and ZOOM, which is great, gives each individual participant options to mute oneself and to turn off the video, leaving a black screen with just a name identifying the person. Even then, a person can “change” the name, using an alias or the name or word of a funny or not so funny character. To me, the shutting down of the video camera decreases and almost eliminates the connection that we so desire and cherish. The ability to see a person’s face allows for a meaningful ‘connection’ to each participant. Chaza”l (the Rabbis of blessed memory) have stated that there is no comparison between hearing and seeing the face of a person. The Kabbalists explain the Hebrew word for face is panim which can also be translated as inward. A person’s face reflects what is inside of that individual’s being; by looking at someone’s face we are able to view the essence of that person. Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to see Hashem panim el panim, face to face. The desire was not to see what God looks like (because Hashem is not a physical being) but rather to see the essence of What Hashem is. This gift that Hashem has instilled within human beings, , the gift of seeing/reading the face of those with whom we are communicating, is now minimized by our situation to make do with something that compromises the natural way.

The second observation relates to the few times I’ve ventured out of the house to go shopping. Many concerned and responsible citizens - including myself - now wear masks to avoid a potential transmission of Covid-19 from person to person. The expression a person has on his/her face and particularly the expressions emitted by with the mouth speaks volumes. If you do not believe me, just take a look at how many emoji faces there are on your phone. While the expression the eyes are the entrance way to the soul and the eyes definitely give a direction as to an individual’s point-of-view, it is the mouth that gives support to the entire face. The mouth controls the description of the face, shaping the message to transmit happiness, sorrow, anger, excitement, etc. We communicate not only by speaking, or through use of sign language, but also through facial and mouthing expressions. I, and I’m sure many of you, know how to communicate with one’s mouth without emitting a single sound.

Rav Shimshon Pincus ZT”L once told me an interesting idea about the Jewish people during the years of wandering in the desert. If the Jewish people had everything, that they needed during the forty year journey through the Sinai desert, there obviously was no need for the Mitzva of Tzedaka. Yet, we are lead to believe that the utopian society of the generation of the Jews in the desert fulfilled all of the mitzvos (so to speak). So, how did they perform the Mitzva of Tzedaka/righteousness? Rav Pincus responded with a smile, exactly how a Jew would smile at a fellow Jew and the other reciprocated and smiled back. The acknowledgment and recognition a person gives to someone else makes the other feel good, as if he or she were receiving something warm, something to be cherished. A smile is contagious; an outgoing smile is reflected upon the recipient’s face, shining back to the person who sent it. In short, smiles given are reflections of the sender. Nowadays, when I venture out to the grocery store, I am only able to see another’s eyes and eyes alone cannot be read. It is the combination of eyes with the mouth which sends the messages, but when the mouth is covered, we are prevented from adequately being able to convey or receive such nonverbal messages. As a Jew, I try to show courtesy and pleasantness to those around me, Jew and gentile alike. While I am not silenced by wearing a mask, I find it very difficult to transmit a friendly feeling to another human being. Additionally, I tend to use the ability to read someone’s mouth if the person appears to be looking at me in an adversarial way. I raise my defenses in case I deem the person a threat. Once again, I am blinded by the fact that masks cover up mouths, causing a complete standstill. These and all issues are discussed in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion Tazria/Metzora we read about the laws on Tzoraas/leprosy and the Metzora, the leper himself. The Mechilta lists ten different reasons or sins why a person would develop Tzoraas and end up being quarantined outside the camp of the Jewish people. The number one or most famous reason was the speaking of Loshon Hora. This is a direct result of someone’s wrongful speech and the misuse of the gift of the mouth, forcing a person to ‘cover’ that mouth and face by being sent away and not being a part of Am Yisroel. If one were to analyze all of the other reasons the Mechilta lists, one would be able to connect and associate those sins that stem from the mouth to the disposition of the total face.

These are two reflections happening on a regular basis during these trying times of social distancing. So often, we read sections of the Torah that we think are outdated and do not apply to us in our time. One obvious example is Tzoraas, the spiritual leprosy that we do not see and therefore cannot check today. Nevertheless, the message, the Mitzva, and the relevance of Tzoraas is alive and well today in our midst, particularly as we ‘protect’ ourselves by wearing a mask. Perhaps the wearing of a mask today or using a ZOOM screen when interacting is not just hiding or preventing the spreading of a virus. I would say it’s the message that we may be guilty as well of the sins that lead to Tzoraas; the result of wearing a mask and observing social distancing is to give us time to reflect that just maybe we may have Tzoraas. The actual physical affliction does not appear, but the effect of it may be making its way inside through a hidden, masked cover-up preventing us from truly ‘seeing’ each other.

May we all have the ability during this time of isolation to think and reflect upon our actions that may have led us to living this type of existence. If we think about this and consider ourselves to possibly be guilty of some of the reasons Tzoraas comes about, then we should do Teshuva. If and when we repent and learn from our actions and speech, we should be Zocheh and merit to see the end of the virus and its devastation and begin to rebuild our world as the Ribbono Shel Olam would want to see us achieve.

Sun, June 20 2021 10 Tammuz 5781