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Refuah shleima, World

We live in a sick world.

Or do we?

The cancer of antisemitism has metastasised globally since October 7th. When we adopted the motto, “Never Again”, we believed we had cured history’s most chronic social ill. We thought we had friends in the West, in liberal progressives who fought for equality and in the intelligentsia who embraced our Nobel laureates. Each time a head of state visited Yad Vashem, we took it as confirmation they would stand up for their Jewish citizens. In the last six months, Jew hatred has vomited out onto TV, social media and city streets. We are scratching our heads at their betrayal and wonder how 1933 Berlin came to a city near us.

King Solomon would remind us there is nothing new under the Sun. Antisemitism is as old as Semites. As soon as our bedraggled nation of liberated slaves left Egypt, Amalek attacked and tried to annihilate us. Nothing has changed. After the Holocaust, we naively thought we might have cured antisemitism. Eight decades later, we realise it was only in remission. Malignant cells multiplied beneath the surface- in Alt-Right chatrooms, radical mosques, Washington dinner parties and the hallowed halls of Harvard. While Hamas built terror tunnels, antisemites developed underground hate networks. When terrorists in green bandanas swarmed from their burrows, it signalled sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated haters to emerge from their holes.

We struggle to make sense of this eruption of Jew-hatred that transcends class, religion, political affiliation and historical divides. We may find a puzzle piece in a mystical explanation of this week’s Torah portion.

The portion discusses Tzaraat, the ancient Biblical skin disease that infected slanderers. The Torah introduces these laws by saying they afflict “Adam”, a title reserved for a spiritually evolved human. The mystics wonder why the Torah confers such a vaunted name on someone suffering from such a degrading disease. Tzaraat renders an individual so impure they must be isolated from society. On the other hand, the disease no longer exists because nobody is holy enough to deserve it.

So, which is it? A horrible affliction for someone who behaves abhorrently or a skin-deep rash that only infects spiritual superstars?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad, explains that the paradox is the key to understanding Tzaraat. It is a skin disease that does not impact internal organs. The ailment is metaphoric. It represents someone who has reached near perfection and only has superficial remedial spiritual work to do. We may get a rash at the tail end of an infection as the illness leaves the body. Tzaraat signals the departure of spiritual impurities. Whatever minor personal development they still require manifests in an uncomfortable skin condition. In other words, only someone spiritually wholesome will erupt in a skin rash to alert them to their remaining self-work. When they cleanse themselves of the rash, they achieve spiritual maturity.

That is why the Talmud suggests that Moshiach’s name might be “The Rabbi with Tzaraat. Of all the available monikers for our messiah, “leper” would not have been our first choice. Suggesting Moshiach suffers with Tzaraat hints at what kind of world we should expect just before he comes.

We live in a sick world- at the tail end of its illness.

On balance, our world is better than ever. Life expectancy and literacy are at record levels. Global food supply and access to drinkable water are higher than ever. Most societies celebrate individual freedom and respect the right to worship without prejudice. Societies collaborate to improve the state of our world. People care about human rights. Jewish life is freer and more robust than in most of our 2000 years of exile.

Despite all that, our world remains a mashup of values and duplicity. Remember when Adam and Eve snacked on the Forbidden Fruit? The full name of the tree they ate from was “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. Our tradition teaches that G-d created a world of clarity. Unhealthy choices came in the guise of a snake, and spiritual values belonged to an attractive garden. Eating the fruit introduced awareness of nuance and dilemma. The lines between right and wrong blurred. Society has battled with grey areas ever since. Centuries later, the world has healthier internal anatomy than ever, so it flushes its latent toxins to the surface. When you can identify illness, you can rehabilitate the patient. Global tzaraat implies we are a step closer to G-d healing His world.

We are a few days into Nissan, the month that celebrates Exodus and the birth of our nation. As we entered this month, the invisible Moon blocked out the mighty Sun. Jews feel unseen at the moment. We pray that this Nissan, the month of our redemption, will celebrate our quiet lunar nation’s power to eclipse the burning hatred towards us. We pray that Nissan will mark the healing of humanity’s oldest disease and the cleansing of the superficial hatred that obscures our truly beautiful world.

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler is the director of Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group. Rabbi Shishler is also a special needs father. His daughter, Shaina has an ultra-rare neuroegenratove condition called BPAN. Rabbi Shishler shares Shaina's story and lessons about kindness and disability inclusion on his other blog, "Shaina's Brocha" and through lectures and Kindness Cookies teambuilding workshops.
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