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The Blessings Of Isolation

04/05/2019 12:40:59 PM


I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Israel last weekend, for the celebration of a bar-mitzvah. The host family arranged a chock-filled itinerary for all the guests who attended from all over the world. Each day was carefully planned with trips, activities and celebrations.

There was one evening where I had a couple hours to myself. I tried to plan something to do, but nothing seemed to work out. At first, I was disappointed. After all, here was my chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do (I was alone without my kids 😊). But then I had a change of mind.

I decided to get lost; to simply walk without a destination in mind. I closed my GPS, veered of the familiar main roads, and entered the mysterious back-alleyways of central Jerusalem.

It was cold and rainy. I was wrapped in a hooded coat. Initially, I was a little guarded, unsure of my surroundings, but soon I calmed down and imagined myself camouflaging against the cobblestone floors, run-down buildings, and scurrying Yeshivah boys and mothers with baby-carriages.

It was a surreal experience, filled with great surprises. I bumped into a friend who I hadn’t had contact with for many years. I passed the perfect store to buy some gifts for my children. I found a small cozy Synagogue to pray Mincha, and enjoyed a brief class from the Rabbi. I helped a mother carry her stroller through a large puddle. I served as a translator for an American tourist trying to purchase a mezuzah. I pushed an elderly person in a wheelchair up a ramp. I gave my phone to a young boy who need to call his mother. I ate a delicious falafel in an eatery I would normally be too squeamish to walk into.

But best of all, I got lost. Both lost in Jerusalem and lost in my thoughts and feelings. Without having any specific plans or goals, I felt like a blank canvas, open to experiencing absolutely anything. And I enjoyed the most amazing states of consciousness.

Special thoughts about my family and my community seeped into my mind. An exciting idea popped up out of nowhere. I felt uniquely elevated by the sacred spirit of our Holy Land. I thought of a shidduch idea for a friend. And I just enjoyed the calming silence in my mind, which allowed me to meditate and reflect on my life.

When I finally found my way back home, I felt so refreshed and alive. I immediately began thinking about how to plan more such experiences, when suddenly I realized my mistake – these experiences happened because they weren’t planned!

A good friend once taught me: There are two kinds of people who fail in life: those who fail to make any plans, and those who insist on sticking to their plans.

After this experience, I though of a new interpretation in this week’s Torah portion Tazria. The Torah rules that if a person contracts the tzaraat ailment (something similar in appearance to leprosy, but caused by spiritual failings), they become impure. There are many forms of impurity in Jewish law, and their typical purification processes include waiting for a period of time, immersing in a mikvah, and offering a sacrifice in the Temple.

But to achieve purity from tzaraat, the Torah adds an extra peculiar measure: the person had to leave the Jewish settlement and spend time in isolation, away from the community. Why?

A person contracted tzaraat when they engaged in idle talk and gossip. Such a person is a disruption to their family and community. Peddling unnecessary and even harmful information is both wrong and damaging. Too many relationships, careers and friendships have been tragically ruined due to such reckless behavior.

So the impurity of tzaraat is different than any other kind of impurity. The other states of impurity are either caused by forces of nature (such as bodily discharges), or by mistaken or unavoidable behavior (such as coming in contact with a dead body etc). The tzaraat impurity, however, reflects a person’s impure character. When a person gossips, they obviously possess deep flaws in their persona (such as ego, lack of self-esteem, jealousy etc.) which causes them to behave this way.

For them to become purified, they need more than ritual and spiritual protocol – they need a complete makeover of their character. The Torah teaches that the best method to achieve this makeover is by leaving home and roaming the outback in isolation. When a person is in their normal habitat and familiar surroundings, it is difficult to make real changes. But when you are alone, without any external distractions, schedule or responsibilities, you are free. Free to think, reflect, regret, plan, resolve, and turn a new leaf.

Ultimately, a person is never alone. When you are in isolation, you can be most connected with yourself, your thoughts, your feelings and your life.

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784