Shabbat Shalom! This week's Torah portion is Parashat Metzora, which continues last week's discussion of skin diseases and the proper way to purify oneself of these afflictions. Being that the Torah was written in a time before modern medicine, the cure for leprosy described in this parasha is to quarantine oneself for a time, then returning to the community to offer a sacrifice and be declared clean.
The Torah recognizes that not all Israelites have equal access to the means with which to make the proscribed sacrifices. About halfway through this week's portion, the Torah spends a whole Aliyah describing the adjustments to be made for a person living with poverty. The word the Torah uses to mean “poor” (dal/דל) is a word that is often associated with “poor health” rather than poor funds, but then the verse continues, “And their means are insufficient…” and the next several verses suggest cheaper offerings for sacrifices. Many of the Rabbinic commentaries on this section point this out, ensuring that the readers in no way misunderstand the interesting choice of Hebrew word for “poor” here. The rabbis are clear that the Torah here is talking about accessibility for what passed for healthcare in that time for everyone, regardless of material wealth.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a modern day halakhist for the Conservative movement, wrote in 2009 that Judaism supports universal health care. The value of saving a life and taking care of each other is consistent throughout Jewish texts and is a central Jewish value. It is further clear from Parashat Metzora that this does not just apply to life and death situations. Parashat Metzora makes clear that everyone must be able to obtain care even for dermatological issues, which may seem minor to today's understanding, and as the ancient Israelites understood the skin disease as reflective of social ills, then one could also extrapolate that treatment for behavioral health should be accessible as well. Rabbi Dorff suggests that there are multiple options for how universal healthcare could be provided and doesn’t advocate for any particular legislation in his ruling on the matter, but is adamant that a healthy society is one that is concerned for the health of all its residents, whether they can afford three lambs or one or maybe even merely two turtle doves.
As modern day Jews, we uphold our Torah when we ensure that everyone in our community is properly cared for. Whether that means advocating for better and more affordable healthcare at a national level, or giving tzedekah to assist those without the means to cover their medical costs, or becoming healthcare professionals, as long as we are supporting each other's well-being, we are working toward building a healthy society, physically, mentally, and socially. May you always find the care you seek at a price you can afford, and may you ensure that those around you can do the same. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.