Coronavirus has been widely described as “a plague of Biblical proportions”. All Plagues of Biblical proportion share at least one trait in common – they are catalysts for unprecedented change. What is being catalyzed through this otherwise tragic global travail?
So many of us are hurting…mourning…searching. Searching for comfort & meaning. How can the storehouse of Jewish wisdom offer us solace and guidance in these times? Remarkably, this week’s Torah reading offers a vision of consolation.
The Torah’s single most discussed physical malady is called tzaarat – widely mistranslated as leprosy. It is a malady that holds similarities to the Corona virus. Tzaraat was a sudden affliction that appeared on the surface of things – from one’s skin, to clothing and even to the walls of one’s home. Upon the first appearance of symptoms the afflicted was commanded to “sit alone outside of the communal camp” – i.e. the Original Biblical Quarantine.
The text on tzaraat continues, “When you come into the land of Canaan which I give to you…and I give you the plague of leprosy on the house….” (Leviticus 14:34) What is striking here is the odd language of ‘gifting’ that is used. First the reference to the gift of the land, and then the gift of the plague. But what kind of a warped gift is a plague? The cognitive dissonance of that wording begs the question, ‘How can a plague be a gift?’
Rashi, the 11th century Torah commentator, steps readily forward with an enigmatic answer to that query. Rashi responds that the gift is a reference to the fact that there was GOLD hidden in the ‘afflicted’ houses by its previous owners. Once they discovered the discoloring and tore down the plagued walls they found there the awaiting golden treasure. Under the afflicted surface was a cache of riches. In fact, the affliction was coming to point out to the home-owner the treasures that awaited them.
This symbolic Rashi can be read from a psycho-spiritual perspective to say that when there is a discoloration on the surface of our lives, when there is a symptom, a plague, it is an indication of something precious and vital hidden underneath. The off-hue prompts us to look deeper; to inspect underneath the surface of things. And in that depth inspection, we find gold. For, in the end, life’s greatest treasure are the riches born of going deep, self-discovery, transformation.
In fact, this work of inspection is not limited to our grappling with Corona virus. It is available in any and every one of our experiences of life’s ‘afflictions’. Today our modern name for plagues is most often ‘symptoms’. As a therapist, I often have clients who come to me bemoaning this or that symptom, from addiction to tooth-grinding to reckless behavior. The ‘symptom’ is always the bad guy, the noxious interloper they want to get rid of – and fast. Of course, we all want to be plague-and-symptom-free. But sometimes in our rush to get rid of our symptoms we lose the invaluable gifts they came to reveal.
Take Sara, a woman who, since the lockdown, has been suffering from terrible insomnia. She had tried everything; sleeping pills, reading boring textbooks in bed. She was still painfully rest-less and wanted help. I asked her to ponder the question, “What is the gift of this symptom of not sleeping at this time?”
She returned the next session with a remarkable story. She said that she realized that the insomnia’s gift was that it protected her from dreaming. For when she dreamed she would often have fear-saturated nightmares; particularly about a childhood trauma. The insomnia both protected her, as well as alerted her. It stood as a signal to the fact that she was covering up something much deeper. The quiet of being in seclusion gave her the space to let some of that material come through in her dreams. And yet she feared those dreams.
Almost immediately upon realizing that deeper reason for her insomnia, her sleeplessness ceased. It was as if the crucial information her insomnia had come to communicate had finally been received and no longer needed to blare its message.
In the past several weeks Sara has taken the time to actually look into the trauma she has been carrying around – and yet avoiding – all these decades. Feelings and fears she just never quite had time to explore were now assessible on the surface. And though feeling through that material is an arduous process, she says that it is deeply ‘rewarding work’. Her insomnia is the paradoxical gift that is opening the doorway to her healing. It is rewarding indeed – just like those golden treasures beneath the plagued walls in the Bible.
Exercise #1: What are some of the gifts of this current ‘plague’ of Corona? Write out 5 personal pieces of Gold you have received.
Exercise #2: Write out a few of the ‘plagues’ that impact you in your own everyday life? It may be a physical or mental ailment or a challenge with a spouse, a child, a friend. How is it a symptom that is simple calling out for you to look beneath? What is its message & gift?
In the Biblical model, our plagues & symptoms are nothing short of prized correspondences from our very souls. When properly mined they can be gifts from above; and from within; plagues that show us where life’s true treasures hide.