Shielding, self-isolation and social distancing are all terms synonymous with the coronavirus crisis and yet they also all relate to the Torah’s laws on the metzorah¬– the person afflicted with a spiritual disease.
A person who suspects they have symptoms is initially examined by a Cohen and then quarantined for seven days.
If there is no subsequent change in their “condition”, then an additional seven-day period of separation is required.
Once they are confirmed as being contaminated, they have to live in isolation outside of the camp until they recover.
But there is a major difference between what the Torah describes and Covid-19: a metzorah was not infectious and his or her affliction was a physical manifestation of a spiritual illness.
So what was the purpose of socially excluding that person?
The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the laws established the concept of hashgacha pratit – Divine providence.
God did not just create the world and leave it to its own devices, but He watches over everything that we do.
There are no hiding places from this reality and we should not deceive ourselves to the contrary.
Rather, we must appreciate that God is positively interested in our lives.
This in turn explains why the metzorah must be confined for a period of time, if deemed necessary.
This imposed time-out provides the person with an opportunity to reflect on these truths, free from the distractions that have blurred their focus on the way the world operates.
Perhaps we should also utilise the current situation to re-evaluate our own world view.
- Rabbi Alex Chapper serves Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue