Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on April 27, 2020


COVID-19 — Coalition to End Social Isolation & LonelinessQuarantine is not a new concept. The idea that there are times when we need to be isolated was clear in ancient times when a person afflicted with a skin disease was told to isolate for at least a week.  The difference is the reason.  While it may look like it is because of a physical condition, the reality is very different (one way we know it isn’t because of a physical condition is because if a person is found to be completely covered with the skin disease, he is considered pure and does not isolate).  When are we quarantined in the Torah? When are people told to stay away from other people for at least a week, and maybe more?
              There is a mysterious set of descriptions that talk about the skin conditions that affect a person. The Torah describes these different skin sores as a ‘s’eis, spachas, or a baheres’ and they can result in a person becoming a ‘metzora’.  More on what these words mean in a second.  After a potential ailment appears, the person is brought to a Cohen to determine if the malady is indeed an official spiritual malady, also know as ‘tzaras’. The question is why does a Cohen specifically determine the condition and not any Rabbinic scholar who has learned the laws like most situations?
               The words above, ‘seis, sapachas, baheres and metzora’ have the following connotation. The word ‘seis’ means to be picked up which hints at arrogance.  The word ‘sapachas’ means an attachment and hints at an attachment to money. Finally, the word ‘bahares’ is related to the word white because one who speaks evilly about somebody else, whitens their face.  Finally, the word metzora is a conjunctive word that means to bring out evil- this person brought evil out to the world and contracted 'tzaras', which is a testimony to the negative way in which he viewed the world. The word 'tzaras' means to have a negative perspective.   
              There are two ways that a person can grow and change from this.  First, we need good role models to show different behavior.  That is why this person goes to a Cohen to be checked.  The model of the Priests was Aaron and he represent the idea of exuding loving kindness to others. This ability flowed through his descendants and the first way to help a person out of his negative paradigm is to give them a new one.  Interacting with a person whose values are the opposite of yours promotes a new persepctive, and seeing it lived is much more powerful than going to a scholar who can only provide information.  The next idea is that a person then has to be alone both to reflect and to avoid damaging more people.  Hopefully, that time of reflection creates change and the Cohen can come back and declare that this person is now different. 
              Given our situation, perhaps, our quarantine can be viewed in much the same way.  There is a preponderance of evil speech, arrogance, and love of money in the world right now and this is a time to reflect about looking beyond superficiality (perhaps that is why the ailments are on the skin) and going to a deeper place about what is truly important.