“He shall dwell alone.”
Today’s discussion of impurity takes us back to earlier readings of this Tractate where we were introduced to various degrees of impurity. It was back in November (and how did it get to be January already) when we were presented with a systemic method for understanding degrees of impurity. Today, the sharp left turn in the text takes us to a discussion of three types of impure people: someone who comes in contact with a corpse (or a creeping animal) a zav (remember Zachary from my earlier posts) and someone with leprosy.
None of these unfortunate souls were allowed into the camps that were established in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, although there are some leniencies allowed for the less severe cases of impurity. They would have been turned away from the camps, and worse, liable for forty lashes for attempting to seek shelter within the city walls. The impure were also forbidden from participating in the Passover ritual of the slaughter of the paschal lamb, although the temporary impure could participate a month later in a second ritual. In an interesting statement on community spread, they could participate in the primary event if the entire community was impure.
The leper is banned from the community events with no leniency allowed. If he has been quarantined for two weeks (like someone exposed to the coronavirus) and is found to still have symptoms, he is relegated to a lonely existence for life. There is a difference between the plight of Zachary the Zav and Samuel, who stumbled upon a corpse, and Leonard, who is inflicted with leprosy. Zachary and Samuel will recover their status after a period of time, but Leonard is a long hauler who is left to “dwell in isolation.”
It was a year ago that I first read about the emerging virus in Wuhan, China and saw the photos of people clinging to their doorways as government officials pulled them out of their homes and brought them to special camps set up for the infected. There were published photos of Chinese officials placing metal bars across the doors of people ill with the virus so that they could not leave their homes. It was heart-wrenching to see such suffering in China. At the time, I had no idea that the virus would result in most of us sheltering in place around the globe. I could not imagine that so many lives would be so disrupted by the emerging virus.
It has been almost one year of living inside with invisible but still present bars across our doorways and for those who live in the United States, it feels like we have lost months in the battle against the silent, but persistent virus. There are large factions in the United States that contributed to community spread because they “don’t believe in wearing masks”, flaunted guidelines regarding social gatherings and congregated for weddings and holidays in defiance of CDC guidelines. The death count has been increasing steadily and we now have 425,000 deaths attributed to the virus in the country and many more globally. We were told to keep six feet apart, stay home, avoid large crowds, wear a mask and wash our hands often. If all of us could have followed these guidelines, the outcome could have been very different.
We are now in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as we can ahead of concern that the unchecked virus could continue to mutate and become more contagious, and perhaps more deadly and resistant to recently developed vaccines. This is what is suspected to have happened in 1918, when there were multiple waves of the pandemic and each one was deadlier than the preceding one.
I am hoping we can continue as a community to do our part. For the first time in a year, with the formulation of a national plan in the US, and the promise of speeding up the vaccination schedule and purchasing enough vaccines to protect the majority of the population, there is hope that we will not be relegated to sheltering in place forever.