Our two parshiot this week deal with the laws of identifying and cleansing someone who has become afflicted with tsarat – a divinely ordained spiritual disease (traditionally translated as leprosy). Once someone has received a positive diagnoses, that person must “dwell alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Vayikra 13:46).
When the leper has recovered and is ready for spiritual cleansing (through a fascinating ritual involving two birds, living water in a clay vessel, hyssop, and red string), God gives a very confusing edict – “This shall be the law of the leper on the day he shall be cleansed, and bring him to the priest” (Vayikra 14:2). What does it mean, bring him to the priest? This person is not allowed to enter the camp! Furthermore, the very next verse says, “And the priest shall go outside the camp” (Vayikra 14:3). Not only can he not go in, but the priest is already coming out – how then can we possibly fulfill the commandment to bring him?
Surely motivated by this confusion, JPS translates our verse as “When it has been reported to the priest, the priest shall go outside the camp.” That is to say, we fulfill our obligation of bringing the leper to the priest by bringing his case to the priest. In contrast to this modern interpretation, some of the medieval commentators posit that the afflicted person is brought to the edge of the camp and the priest meets him there. This solution covers all our bases – we both inform the priest so he can come out and bring the afflicted toward him.
The Ramban (1194 Spain – 1270 Israel), however, has a very different understanding of the true essence of God’s commandment. He tells us that the Torah’s imperative is that the leper must be cleansed on the very day he is cured. He cannot tarry at all – to the extent that we are even allowed to bring him to the priest by force.
I remember the day I was supposed to attend my first therapy session. I had lived in emotional separation – feeling alone for so long. Yet when the time came for me to get the help I needed and begin re-entering the world, fear overcame me. Choosing to remain alone in darkness was easier than facing the purifying light – of showing others, let alone myself, how broken I truly was. Soon after my scheduled appointment time, my holy and beloved friend came knocking on my door. Although he knew I would not be cured after one session, he was there to help me take the first step – he was there to fill the commandment and bring me to the priest.
The leper in the Torah has been living in complete isolation. Even though they have overcome their illness, an intense and long road of re-integration still lies ahead of them. Even though they may have eagerly awaited and prayed for this day, when the moment comes – staying put may be the only thing they have strength left to do.
This, the Ramban tells me, is God’s imperative. When we are in need and ready for help, we are commanded to take it. Furthermore, when we see our family, friends, and community members baulking at their responsibility to seek help, we are commanded to reach out an encouraging hand and say, “I’ll bring you.”