Years ago an elderly Jew at my synagogue said of the weekly reading, “Each one of us has a portion we wish we could leave out. My portion is the portion on leprosy. I wish we did not have to read that the leper is cast out of the community.” Of course, we know the truth that the Talmud negates this law: it says that the separation of the leper from the community is for the good of the leper and not a punishment, and that the person who checks the leper until they are healed is a priest–the holiest person in the community, birth wise. Despite the mitigation of the law and the fact it is no longer practiced today, it grates harshly on the ears, and we wonder, “Surely God does not will it so.”
For me there is another law that is even closer to home, with similar reasoning behind it. Schizophrenics in the Torah merit stoning, and I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. Again, in the Talmud it says that the sick deserve protection, both physical and also–in the case where somebody who is sick is to inherit money–monetary. I can claim with some pride that there are Jews–like Freud–who have made special efforts to remove the stigma on mental illness. More, I believe the Jews in my synagogue accept me fine, though there have been some exceptions.
Yet I believe there is a tradition as much a part of the Law which teaches the Jew to embrace the leper and the madman. It speaks of the mashiach himself,
He was despised, and forsaken of men,
A man of pains, and acquainted with disease,
And as one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried;
Whereas we did esteem him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was would because of our transgressions,
He was crushed because of our iniquities:
The chastisement of our welfare was upon him,
And with his stripes we were healed.
Christians will recognize this as one of the proof texts of Christianity. For Jews… for us it may refer to the Jewish people as a whole. I prefer this ladder interpretation. Because with it I may be–despite my illness–a part of the mashiach. I am not, of course, anything like the whole banana. I am a mere human being, and I can never become God. Yet when I suffer, God suffers through me. And when I feel joy, God experiences it through me. The question arises, “What about other people? Does God love only the Jews?”
Years ago I came across a Midrash. It said that God planted a garden for the sake of a Lily. Yet brambles got into the garden. God could not pull out the brambles because if God did, he would destroy the lily. Yet there was this promise–there may be other flowers which God planted in the garden which may be as blessed as the Lily to God. The Law says, “The righteous of the nations shall be saved,” and when God comes for his harvest, he may have–I believe he shall have–a basket full of Lilies.
So it is that even those regarded as stigmatized–those traditionally outside of faith, like the lunatic, the eunuch, and the leper–will be embraced and added to those traditionally regarded as saved. For that reason I will write a poem of my own:
God’s daughter given to the Jews
Is a Pale Lily blossoming rich
In faith and mitzvoth for the ones who love
The beloved bride, as the Torah is.
The Torah loves who will embracing it.