This is Leviticus, so this instruction is given after someone has been in an “impure” state, and needs to move to a “pure” state. Impure/pure tamei/tahor/impure/pure. Disease/health/disease/health.
There’s a whole ritual for the leper, the one who needs to be separated from the camp, so he can be cleansed, cured, brought back into the community. And it involves shaving all his hair off. Torah may have thought that the priest could diagnose, treat and cure disease but some diseases don’t work that way. Some just grab you and separate you and never give you back. Like cancer.
Last night I witnessed “Shave for the Brave” at the 2014 Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform movement’s professional rabbinic association. For those who don’t know, there was a little boy named Sam. Superman Sam. Sam Sommer, and his parents are Phyllis and Michael Sommer. He had David, Yael and Solly as siblings. And he had thousands of us who took his story into our hearts. Sam got sick. Sam lost his hair. Sam had to stay separated. But them Sam died, and no kind of burnt offerings would change that.
Last night there was a different kind of offering. Last night, rabbis from all over the country shaved their heads, not to cure Sam, but to help put an end to that kind of sadness for other families. Those brave men and women offered up their hair to raise the money to keep the research going to find the answers to the painful puzzle that is childhood cancer.
I stood and bore witness to that moment. There was joy. There was sadness. There was love. There was support and there was hope. There was loss and there was laughter. Pictures were taken and thousands watched the live stream. There were over 50 newly-bald, suddenly cold heads on the last morning of the conference. And there were over $500,000 more dollars in the coffers of St. Baldricks Foundation that will fund years of research in pediatric cancer.
Metzora teaches us there is a way to take what is tamei/impure and make it tahor/pure. Phyllis and Michael Sommer took Sam’s story and made us look. They wouldn’t let us look away. And they found a way to take what was unfathomably tamei and find some purity in it. You can still help. Go to the foundation’s website and do what you can.
In Sam’s name, in Sam’s memory, in Sam’s honor….thank you.