Each day, when I pick up my son up from school, I ask him how his day was, and his answer is always the same: “Boring.” When I then ask him what he did, he tells me about activities he enjoyed, who he played with on the jungle gym, and the new things he learned. Whenever I see him at school, he’s running around, happy as can be, and doesn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Still, his initial response is always that it’s boring.
If I read this week’s Torah portion and was asked how it was, the first adjective to come to mind would be boring — or even gross. If a contest were held for the least-exciting Torah portion of the year, this portion would win by a landslide. This week’s double portion, called Tazria-Metzora (Delivery-The Leper), deals with an ailment called Tzara — which can afflict the skin or even a house. Thankfully, this condition no longer exists today. The portion describes the process for diagnosis and recovery from the disease.
Although the portion is filled with detailed, yucky descriptions of skin rashes and mold, it also contains one of my favorite teachings of the entire Torah. In describing the diagnosis procedure, the priest is instructed to examine the affliction on the patient’s skin and then to “look at him.” The priest is required to examine the infection, but also to see the whole person.
Often in life, flaws are readily apparent, but we need to look at the whole picture to see the strengths too. The pain of life is easily recognized; the blessings require a second look.
Sunday on Yom Ha-Shoah we recalled the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and the promised to never forget. For myself (and many in this generation), we have been so inundated with Holocaust movies, books and images that we couldn’t possibly forget. The real question is: what do we do with this memory? How does remembering change us?
The first and most important result of remembering the Holocaust is that it spurs us to speak out against injustice — and particularly against genocide all over the world. “Never Again” is a powerful call to action.
Yet, on a personal, spiritual level, the memory of the Holocaust is harder to swallow. The Shoah reminds us that the world is an unsafe place and that people have tremendous capacity for evil. Since I knew about the Holocaust from a very young age, to this day I occasionally have nightmares with terrifying, Holocaust images. For me, the memory of the Shoah has been like a kind of spiritual darkness that is always with me.
However, more recently, I’ve discovered that remembering the Shoah can also have the opposite spiritual affect. It can bring vibrancy to commonplace moments. In her acceptance speech at the Oscars in 1996, Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein recalled “those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.” She said that there is no better way to honor the memory of those who died “than when you return home tonight, to realize that each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners.”
The memory of the Holocaust can give us a second pair of eyes with which to see our lives. Like the priest, it can help us see the bigger picture. By comparison, so many of our problems are trivial. Our complaints are not worth complaining about. Even the most boring moments of our lives are spectacular.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.