A Wanderer in a Houseless Land

I am going through a family crisis with a beloved sister who can only start to heal if she divorces the family. In the midst of my grief for her pain, and for mine at being separated from her, I focused on the Torah portions leading up to Pesach (Passover). The theme of the metzora (commonly understood as one afflicted with leprosy) who was inspected and declared unclean by the Kohen (priest) really struck me. Was my sister like the Kohen declaring me unclean, that I must be banished from her community? Or was Emotional Survival the Kohen declaring her unclean and banishing her from the family?

Either way, the experience of being forcibly removed from a deep, longstanding relationship is wrenching for all concerned. I dipped once again into the Stone commentary on the Torah passage and found this thought-provoking assertion that uncleanness (tzaraas) has nothing to do with a physical disease but is a spiritual disease:

“Thus, tzaraas is a Divine retribution for the offender’s failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others. God isolates him from society, so that he can experience the pain he has imposed on others—and heal himself through repentance.”

So in a sense, by her excommunication from the family, each of us now faces the question of whether we are unclean as well. It is tempting to think we are not, of course. It’s so much easier to believe that this is all just her problem. Hardly. If I have unwittingly contributed to her pain and sorrow just by being myself, then I am guilty of the same hardheartedness described in the commentary. She needed something from me that I was not prepared to give, or worse, that I chose not to give.

Is there no end to these opportunities for self-flagellation? It makes me want to run and hide in the presumed safety of my comfortable community, get my strokes and reassurances, and forget the one who is outside the camp suffering and repenting. But I cannot ever forget her. She is forever in my soul and I must accept the Kohen’s keen eye on my heart as well.

I try to maintain a regular daily reading of George MacDonald’s transcendent poems from his book Diary of an Old Soul. Unless you have read them, too, you can’t know how powerful a challenge they present to our normal, bumbling approach to who we are with ourselves, each other, and with God. This one came up today and I don’t consider it a coincidence:

“Thy mind, my Master, I will dare explore;
What we are told, that we are meant to know,
Into thy soul I search yet more and more,
Led by the lamp of my desire and woe.
If thee, my Lord, I may not understand,
I am a wanderer in a houseless land,
A weeping thirst by hot winds ever fanned.”

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