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Fist Bumps for Me

03/31/2022 02:30:20 PM


Here is the real reason I prefer fist bumps to handshakes. As a newly-minted rabbi, I was blessed to serve this wonderful congregation in Atlanta. I had started in the summer, and by fall I found myself fully engaged in executing high holiday services at B’nai Torah. I was overwhelmed with putting names to faces, so it truly is an anonymous memory when I recall shaking someone’s hand during a Torah procession. As he firmly gripped my hand, we exchanged pleasantries, with me saying that I was doing great, and him responding back that he’d be good once he was feeling better from the flu. In retrospect, it’s possible that an attempt at humor went over my head. Though at that service, I resolved to make sure that I had a supply of hand sanitizer in my tallis bag. Relatedly, I adopted the fist bump. 

When you read Parshat Tazria, you might have a similar experience as you are bombarded by the intricate details of the leprous skin disease; tzara’at. The portion takes a deep dive into what this skin discoloration looks like, how it can spiritually contaminate others through their contact with an afflicted person, and how it can spread to furnishings and buildings. Unless you are a dermatologist or another type of doctor, it’s likely something you wouldn’t want to do an image search for on the internet. Tzara’at was a serious disease and because it is transmitted through contact, the Torah prescribes that the afflicted must warn others by calling out “impure, impure!” (Leviticus 13:45). This is exactly what I had hoped the person who shook my hand at that first high holiday service would have said. Something akin to, “let’s not shake hands, I’m getting over the flu!”

In this world of masks and vaccines, a world of PCR percent positives, and waves of virus that resemble Greek life on college campus (AΔΟ, Alpha Delta Omicron), our society can be responsible enough to limit contaminating others. While this is especially hard for a society that celebrates individual rights, our society excelled when everyone was individually responsible for limiting the spread to other people. This Torah portion reminds us that we are part of a larger community. And if we want to receive the blessings that come from being surrounded by others, then we have a responsibility to protect the sacred balance of our community by making sure contaminants don’t spread. In the long run, this pandemic will ebb and flow, and masks and boosters might come and go. Even after this virus hopefully turns into a distant memory, we’d be wise to remember that we have the responsibility for others, even if that means we have to speak up and occasionally announce ourselves as “impure, impure.”

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782