But aside from enduring fears and lingering memories, what is the impact of the presence of tzara'at on the community? We learn that when a person is suffering, the rest of us cannot go on with the tasks of daily living. The knowledge that someone is outside the camp should impede our ability as a group to function as a healthy organism. In one account of a specific individual afflicted with tzara'at and the impact of that event on the community at large, we learn a great deal. As the Israelites wander in the desert, Miriam is afflicted with tzara'at, and the entire community comes to a standstill. Everyone's journey comes to a halt for the period in which she is placed outside the camp. Only when she returns can the group members all move forward again.
What a remarkable model our Biblical ancestors provide for us! The community is comprised of all of its individual members. The life of the community is compromised when someone is outside the camp, when someone is on the margin. Forward movement is impossible for everyone as long as one individual is outside the camp. Perhaps that is because everyone knows that departing from that place would mean certain death for the person on the outside.
As Reform Jews, we affirm the importance of inclusion. Our communities are open to those who would like to join us. Our communities have extended a welcome to individuals and groups who were once permanently outside the camp: intermarried couples and families, the LGBT community, the former Orthodox and people who do not believe in the efficacy of the synagogue. Our efforts toward inclusion are a reflection of our ongoing commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the less than perfect world that is ours. We are responsible for affirming that those who stand on the margins of our society are important members of it. We are responsible for declaring their readiness to be brought back into the camp so that they are not left, forgotten, as the rest of the world presses forward. Like the priest in this week's portion, each of us can be the embodiment of holiness. We can move from within the community of which we are a part and reach out to those who are on the periphery, knowing that our personal status will not be negatively affected and that the status of the entire community will be thereby elevated. Like our ancestors in the desert, we must remember and be responsible for reminding others that none of us makes progress unless all of us participate, unless all of us matter.