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Metsorah. Shabbat Ha Gadol. Freedom through Speech





"And here we are, Shabbat HaGadol: the Shabbat before Pessach.


I cannot believe we are preparing for the "Holiday of Freedom" in this context.

A war that started inexpectedly, on Simchat Torah, with the most devastating attack on Jewish Bodies since the Shoah. A war that is still dragging, in ways that are so painful on so many levels. And most of all: 132 civilian hostages, from 1 year to about 80 years old, still held captive for more than six months now. There is are, unfortunately, records of captivity in Jewish History. Jews were an oppressed minority, strangers in strange lands, and their host societies knew the incredible solidarity that tied this strange people together, so much so that people in Florencia, Italy, were willing to collect together insane amounts of money to pay the ransom of a fellow Jew they in a town of Irak who they had never seen and probably never would. And so hostage taking was unfortunately part of the way Jews were physically, psychologically and financially oppressed for millenia. Talmudic literature has spent much ink on the delicate question on how much to give without giving too much into terror. Mah nishtanah ha leila ha zeh? Will we sing again on the opening seder night.

(what is different this night?) This year, everything is different:

Although hostage taking is not new in Jewish History, such a case is unseen: these are not soldiers nor rich merchants, civilians; these are not one or two, but 132; and they have been there for half a year already... Everything feels both surreal and so painfully redundant about Jewish History: we are about to celebrate yetziat mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, the breaking free of Hebrew slaves. And here we are, with too many of our brothers and sisters still captive in Azza in a war they never wanted for the crime of being born where they were, in the people they were born into, in the land of their ancestors, and here they are, captive in horrendous conditions, in a piece of land right by the border of nowadays Egypt and that used to be part of Egypt, and each morning we keep waking up to the same reality that feels like a never ending nightmare. Maybe this is how it felt for the hebrew slaves too, then. Or maybe they were too alienated by generations of slavery to feel anything. But we are not. And as painful as we feel, at least we do. Why is it good to feel bad? Because then I can take action.


Not the acting out of speaking too fast, and speaking bad words. This is too easy. And this is what this week's parasha, Metsora, is reminding us of:

On this Shabbat just before the 'great liberation' of Passover, we are told about leprosy.


The interpreters of Parashat Metsorah tell us that this affliction is a symptom of a disease of the soul, one that we all know well: lashon hara- literally evil tongue.


Speech, from a Jewish perspective, creates reality.


And we all know the suffering that we create, for ourselves and for others, when we use our mouths to criticize, judge others, or worse.


And yet, we are about to celebrate a holiday during which it is precisely speech that liberates:


Pe-Sach, is the mouth that tells.


During the Seder, we recount our liberation, precisely so that we become free. The telling in Pessach works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in a time of global war where words are used to destroy, we need words that free, the ones that will open the way for Miriam's dance.


Sometimes we are tempted to want to cut off from ourselves the parts of us that we are not very proud of.

As if that would solve the problem. '


But it doesn't work like that, does it?

We have only this one mouth, for better or for worse.


The Mei HaShiloach reminds us that it is precisely from the same place where harm comes, that good can come too.


It is often from where it hurts the most that the greatest healing can come.


That is tikun, repair.

And Tikun happens precisely where it is needed.


This is the invitation of this 'Great Shabbat' before Passover, and of this parasha: healing from where it hurts.


But how to do this tikun?


The metsorah is removed from the camp for a time. As if God, with the Cohen, had whispered into each other's ear and said, 'that one, he needs a good meditation retreat.'

A moment with oneself, to do one's soul searching (heshbon nefesh).


She needs to be alone for a while, to look within herself.

"To clarify" her heart by "recognizing her shortcomings," as the Ishbitzer Rebbe says, and to transform bitter speech into speech that heals.


Heshbon Nefesh is at the heart of the spiritual activity of Rosh Hashanah.


Now Nissan is the other major New Year, and perhaps the first, of the Jewish year.


Cleaning one's house before Passover, emptying oneself of chametz, the swollen ego too full of oneself, is to do this heshbon nefesh: it is also an opportunity to cleanse one's soul.


Let us take the gift of this Shabbat before Passover.


Let us take the time to pause and make this space.


It may be our most beautiful Passover cleaning.


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