“Yucky Stuff” . . . For the next two weeks we are reading portions in our Torah that most of us would prefer to avoid: this week, Tazria, next week, Metzora. Leprosy, mold on houses, impurities incurred from childbirth, and similar “yucky” stuff. And it was the priests who had the dubious honor of examining all these afflictions and declaring them either cured or not.
Nevertheless, as “yucky” as this material is to read about, all of us still have to deal with a certain amount of physical unpleasantness during the course of our lives, to this day, some of it relatively innocuous, some of it, more serious.
The Hard Reality of Life. . . Last week I joined several of my colleagues from the New York Board of Rabbis as we met with the pastors and president of the Spanish Christian Church, formerly located in a building on Park Avenue & 116th Street. The church was destroyed in the gas explosion two weeks ago that destroyed two buildings and many lives. We met in the office of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council Member for East Harlem. We offered personal comfort, as we tried to get a sense of what we could do to help. Eight members of the church were lost, and several more are still in the hospital fighting to recover. Most likely our colleagues will arrange for a communal meal of solidarity with the church members at a Manhattan synagogue, and put together some contributions. I will let you know when this is settled. One of the local churches, on East 101st Street, has offered the Spanish Christian Church temporary quarters until they can rebuild.
Before we sat down together in Ms. Mark-Viverito’s office, we were taken to the area to witness the devastation ourselves. All of Park Avenue between 116th and 117th Streets is roped off and covered with debris. Where the buildings once stood is now a huge gaping hole, and the adjoining building walls are stained with ash and water, and God knows what else. The first responders of the FDNY and OEM, as usual, exhibited bravery and selflessness as they tried to rescue as many souls as they could. And now they continue to work in clearing out the mangled debris and securing the area so that it is once again safe and inhabitable. We may think of mold on houses and the Biblical notion of impurities as outmoded and yucky. But one look at the mess that the people from those buildings are going to have to recover from, and we remember that our physical comforts are precious commodities that we can never take for granted.
Prayers for the Victims. . . Thus in the next two weeks, as we make our way through these seemingly outmoded Torah portions, we remember that while the specifics may have changed, and the theological interpretations, in some cases, may have evolved, life concerns and physical realities will always be part of the human condition. We pray for the recovery of the people and of the community of East Harlem. May they find strength and comfort from each other and from their fellow New Yorkers.