PARSHAT METZORA – SHABBAT HAGADOL

PURITY OF ARMS

“This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified.”  (Leviticus 14:2)

            I need to speak about the events of this past weekend.  But before turning to that topic, let me look at this week’s portion.  We are reading a part of the Torah that is focused on ritual impurity (tamei) and ritually purity (tahor).  When someone is ritually impure, there are limitations on what they can do.  Most important, they cannot enter the Temple area.  And perhaps most important for this Shabbat HaGadol (the Sabbath before Passover), they cannot eat of the Passover offering.

            There are many ways a person can become ritually impure (tamei).  Both birth and death cause such impurity.  So does touching certain animals and experiencing certain bodily flows, both natural and unnatural.  Most prevalent in our portion, a skin disease (metzora) often mistranslated as “leprosy” creates ritual impurity.  It appears more like a fungus that can appear on our skin, our clothing, or the walls of our home.  The important point is that a person with this disease must remain outside the encampment.  So, the heart of the portion is how to reenter a state of purity (tahor) and reenter the community.  The priest would supervise a series of rituals and sacrifices which would lead to purity and allow someone to reenter the community.

            Most (but not all) of these laws have fallen out of practice in contemporary life.  We no longer force someone with a disease out of the community, although we did enforce a shutdown and strict social distancing when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020.  But all of us want to leave that state of being ritually impure (tamei) and reenter the state of being (tahor) ritually pure.  This applies to the current situation in Israel.

            The Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.), the military establishment that defends the Jewish state has developed a policy called Tohar HaNeshek – “Purity of Arms.”  It is an attempt by the military, forced to fight constant wars of self-defense, to use arms in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and attempts to fight in an ethical manner.  In a sense, purity of arms is close to the Just War Theory developed by Thomas Aquinas, which speaks of Jus ad bellum (when to go to war) and Jus in bello (how to fight a war).  It is concerned with rules regarding proportionality and avoiding collateral damage.  These principles are taught to all Israelis who serve in the I.D.F.

            The question arises, how can Israel practice Tohar HaNeshek – such purity of arms when it faces enemies who have no qualms about civilian casualties?  We are all aware of the terror Hamas brought into Israel on October 7, slaying some 1200 Israeli men, women, and children, and taking hundreds of hostages.  These events took place with the blessing of Iran, hoping to put a stop to a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Iran was working behind the scenes.  But now Iran has come out into the open with its plans to destroy Israel.

            Last Sunday morning Iran attacked Israel with over 300 drones and rockets.  Thanks to the help of a number of nations including the United States, Great Britain, and even Jordan, Israel was able to stop the missile barrage.  Now we are waiting for an Israeli response against Iran.  The United States has urged Israel not to respond but to lower tensions.  But how do you lower tensions with a nation that is building a nuclear bomb and has clearly expressed its goal of destroying Israel?

            The deep question through this is, how can Israel practice purity of arms and still defend herself from those who would destroy her?  It is clear that this is what the nations who are lined up against Israel desire.  And those who block bridges in the United States shouting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are calling for the destruction of Israel.  7 million Jews live from the river to the sea; where do these demonstrators want them to go?

            Israel needs to defend itself from Iran and other who would destroy her, while trying to maintain her policy of Tahor HaNeshek.  It is not easy.  With faith in God, Israel will succeed.  As we will say during the Passover Seder next week, “In every generation they arise against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”