We each live in two worlds simultaneously – the physical world that we all share, and our own private mental and spiritual worlds.
Judaism understands this, understands that we function on many levels at once. It is why our celebrations and holidays are so multi-faceted. It is why our sages understood this week’s Torah portion, which deals with skin ailments, as having spiritual as well as physical implications.
These ailments, according to Leviticus, can extend beyond the human physical realm to our homes. The Torah tells of a “plague” being inflicted on a house, and how the Levitical priest would deal with it. Over the centuries, many commentators have taken this to be a moral rather than a physical occurrence.
A home is a family’s refuge. A home afflicted by a plague represents the breakdown of the social values that keep a family safe and united.
So too with the places in which we congregate. A synagogue, church, or mosque is a community’s refuge. A spiritual home afflicted by a plague represents the breakdown of moral values that keep a community safe and united.
Our spiritual and emotional well-being is inextricably linked to the physical realm, to the people with whom we interact and the places we go. John Donne famously wrote that no man is an island, and it has been shown time and again that we humans are better off when we affiliate with a community.
Like any community, mine is not perfect. And yet it remains a place of refuge, a place where each person can be their own authentic selves, where – I hope! – we do not judge but rather accept each other’s failings as well as our strengths.
There is a lovely prayer that was written to be recited on entering a synagogue. I’ve often thought of posting it at the entrance to my synagogue, next to the welcome sign:
May the door of this synagogue be wide enough
to receive all who hunger for love,
all who are lonely for fellowship.
May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough
to shut out pettiness and pride,
envy and enmity.
Sidney Greenberg and Jonathan Levine
As Jews around the world prepare for Passover and our Seders, may we be blessed to tend to our own spiritual needs as well as physical; that as we tell the story of our people’s physical liberation, we can also strive for our own spiritual liberation.