I finally did it. I finally made a doctors appointment. About three years ago a pimple of sorts sprung up on my inner forearm. I have known for years that I have the potential for skin cancer. I have many moles on my body. I was told that I should see a dermatologist every couple of years to monitor for any new growth. And that was fifteen years ago. In the past fifteen years I went once to a specialist, once! When this growth developed three years ago I knew it required examination. Yet I did nothing. Only now, when a couple of weeks ago it changed form, did I feel I could no longer delay. Smart? hardly! If my car needed attention would I delay and risk further damage? If my investments were tanking in the stock market would I sit by and watch them sink? If my home was beset with termites would I wait to call the exterminator? Of course not! So then how is it when it comes to the wellbeing of my person, with the stakes even higher, that I can be so cavalier and endlessly put off paying them mind?
This week we read two portions in the Torah, Tazriya and Metzorah. The bulk of the content concerns the laws of a spiritual form of leprosy. It tells us that if a person finds a mark on his body, clothing or home, a discoloration and/or lump, s/he needs to have it seen by the kohen, priest, to determine if s/he, or his/her clothes or his/her home is 'tamay' , ritually impure. If the tzaraat. leprosy, is on his/her body s/he will need to dwelll outside the camp until it heals. If it is in his/her home or clothing, in the worst case, the clothes or home may become unusable. The laws are only relevant in Temple times. And they concern for the most part the kohen who must make the examination. The Torah provides him with the guidelines to determibe puriry or impurity. The laws have no applicability today. The passages are long and full of detail. Its hard to extract a moral from them. Yes, this too is Torah. But that alone does not make the passages interesting or engaging. It's a struggle to find meaning in them.
This year I found a mirror to my irrational behavior in the story of the one beset with tzaraat. The Torah in the early section of the first portion tells us that if a person finds a lump, a growth that appears leporous on his body then "he shall be brought to Aharon the priest or to one of his sons who are priests". Note the Torah uses the term "v'huva", "and he shall be brought". The implication is that the person who has the unusual growth is not like to seek the assessment of the priest of his own volition.
S/he will need to be brought in for examination. Yet in the second of the two readings when we are told of the tzaraat that might be found in the home, the Torah implies the one whose home is infested will come on his own. The verse reads "And he who has the plague will come to the kohen and say 'I see what appears to be a plague in my home'". Here, with regards the plague of the home, their is no expectation that s/he will have to be brought. On the contrary the verse tells us that not only will s/he likely come on his/her own, s/he will make a speech to the kohen announcing his/her circumstances.
Why? Why does the Torah imply that in the case of a plague of the person s/he will likely avoid examination and yet when it comes to the very same plague but this time found in his/her property the person will come in on his/her own and announce his/her situation?
It is here that I see the mirror to myself, and I might add, to many others who may well be like me. The Torah in these passages is telling us that when we are dealing with a flaw in ourselves we tend to dismisss the urgency of our circumstances. Typically when we have an issue, medically or otherwise, we play it down, ignoring it, hoping it will go away. Only when we cannot put it off any longer do we pay it attention. I was a chaplain for many years. I visited oh so many persons who delayed having their breasts or prostate examined, even when their were clear signs that something was wrong. They simply refused to see the obvious. And in some cases their delay of treatment, ultimately and tragically, cost them their lives. Yet these very same people who found it so difficult to acknowledge a malfunction or growth in their body would be so attentive to a problem with their washing machine, their car, or any of their assets, including their children. If something was amiss in another part of their life they tended to it immediately. Yet when it affected their body they seemed deaf and dumb to the reality.
I wonder why? Why do we deny our physical issues even to our own harm? Why will the one with leprosy of the body avoid the assesment s/he needs yet take initiative to redress the leprosy of his/her home? Why do I fix my car before I fix myself?
I suspect that the answer has to do with shame! Our physical malfunction causes us shame. We are loathe to talk about it. We prefer to delay or even deny rather that have it explored and examined. It's not a rational shame. Shame never is rational. But that does not make the feeling of shame less real. We feel no shame when our car breaks down, or our house has termites. Yet when we sense our colon is not working as it should we feel shame! We are ashamed of our compromised bodies. And that shame, at times, keeps us from pursuing treatment that may make the difference between life and death.
So this coming week I will go to the doctor. I hope my foolish shame will not have significant consequences. But even if this time I escape unscathed, neither you nor I can afford to indulge the feeling of shame when it comes to our wellbeing. We need to get over it! We need to be as dilligent with our person as we are with our assets, even more dilligent!
I hope next year when we read these portions again we will find in them a mirror to the persons we used to be. But they will no longer mirror the persons we are!
This entry represents the 200th edition of "The Torah and the Self".
I am grateful to Hashem for giving me the opportuntity to write and share.
I am grateful to you for reading and thinking with me!
We have travelled together!