Our Scars are a Road Map to Healing

Posted on April 8, 2022 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

This has been a time of building up walls and of tearing them down. We have endured a prolonged period of enforced separation to protect us from the dangers of COVID. And many of us have had to tear down walls that were infected with mold spawned by floodwaters from Hurricane Ida.

It is as if we have been living this week’s parashah, Metzora, which describes our ancestors’ responses to the risk of plagues that could affect one’s body or one’s home.

Torah instructs that one must take action when even the suspicion of such danger appears. As described in Leviticus 14:35, when a discoloration appears on the wall of one’s house, one must go to the priest and declare, “something like a plague has appeared on my house.” Careful examination then ensues, caution is exercised to avert danger, and both the affected individual and the community must endure a period of disorienting uncertainty until the crisis is resolved.

But Jewish tradition has an uncanny way of turning crisis into opportunity, of bidding us to look for the light amidst the darkness. It is a custom to pray at midnight, in the heart of darkness, and to greet the dawn with supplication, rising to witness the first spark of light that pierces the morning sky. In moments of uncertainty, when something like an affliction appears, the teachers of Torah bid us to look below the surface and engage in examination that is more than skin deep, and to do so with hope for healing and renewal — to enter into the dark places to find the light.

A midrash suggests that God’s announcement that plague would visit the Israelite homes when they entered the Promised Land was actually good news. [1]  For when the Ammorites heard that the Israelites were coming, they hid their gold in the foundations of their homes before they fled. Thus, when forced by the plague to dismantle the walls of their dwellings, the Israelites would discover the treasures that had been left behind. [2]

As unpleasant as it was to take down walls or discard damaged possessions after the remnants of Hurricane Ida, many of us used the opportunity to rebuild on a better, firmer foundation. In my own home, we found no treasures in our basement amidst the moldy walls, but it was cathartic to discard detritus we had accumulated over the years and enact repairs. Both physically and spiritually, there is something cleansing about stripping down to the studs and starting over.

Another vein of interpretation sees the afflictions of tzara’at on one’s body or one’s home as a sign of moral malady, as a divine visitation brought on by transgression. Though I do not subscribe to the theology implied here — I do not believe that illness is a punishment from God — questioning the way things are and the way we behave presents a significant opportunity for growth, both individually and collectively.

For example, on a societal level, America’s crumbling infrastructure reveals very real spiritual maladies. We have erected walls that separate people by economic status, race, religion and ideology, and those barriers bear the signs of a moral decay that is as corrosive as the rust that is destroying our bridges. We need an ethical examination, an honest reckoning, and a cleansing, in order to find our way to healing and renewal. It is long overdue. It is time for the barriers we have built to come down, to see one another anew, and to rebuild on a firmer foundation.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev taught that at the core of all existence there is a spark of divinity, that God dwells in all things and in each of us. [3] To reveal that sacred spark we must peel away the externalities and look beneath the surface. The road map to this journey is revealed by our scars, by the physical and metaphorical tzara’at on our bodies and our homes. And we must not be afraid to expose and examine them, for it is beneath the surface that we will find the treasure that lies at the foundation of everything we are and all the structures that we build: the sacred spark of the divine.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck


[1] Leviticus 14:34
[2] Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 17:6
[3] Kedushat Levi on Leviticus 14:34