Metzora: Illness And Recovery, Then And Now by Mira Potter-Schwartz and Rabbi Ariel Milan-Polisar

Parshat Metzora marks the end of the instructions that detail what a person afflicted with tzaraat, “scaly disease”, has to do to become pure again.

The processes include various rituals that are laid out in very deliberate ways, with specific instructions for the order in which they should be performed. The text outlines special instructions for those who are poor. Commentators suggest that the word דל, dal, “poor,” could refer either to someone who is without means (as the text explicates) or someone who is severely ill. In a world where COVID is still a reality, and there are procedures for returning to normality after testing positive for COVID, the parallels are undeniable.

We know that our healthcare system favors those with greater resources. In a 2020 study done at the Center for Health Policy at the University of Virginia, doctors found that, “Lower education levels and greater percentages of black residents are strongly associated with higher rates of both COVID-19 cases and fatalities.” This study tells us that our current system doesn’t provide equal opportunity for all individuals to recover from illnesses.

When individuals are afflicted with tzaraat in the Torah, we are reminded that, even then, the Israelites knew that this was not a result of something they did. Their afflictions were out of their control. So too, with COVID-19, we know that the socioeconomic status of individuals is not a cause of the disease.

Thus, as the Torah provides an opportunity for recovery regardless of poverty level, so too should our health system. Parshat Metzora shows us how the leadership provided different recovery pathways dependent on means, which is something we can certainly learn from today. Everyone deserves adequate healthcare and the opportunity to recover and bounce back from illness, unrestricted by their circumstances.