There is something so restorative about the air here. Even the first breath of air outside the terminal at Ben Gurion Airport, replete with the fumes of planes and taxis, brings in part of the נשמה יתירה - the additional soul. Driving through the maze that is the airport exit, my friend, Ronnie Garr, rolled down the windows and I was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh flowers and Jasmine of the airport gardens. Another little bit of the neshama made its way in. Exiting the car in Yerushalayim, all it took was one very deep breath to feel completely restored. All the little pieces of my soul, the pieces that I leave as deposits after each trip here, seem to immediately find me upon my return. They fill me up and render me complete, at least for the duration of my trip.
I quickly made my way through passport control - with the customary questioning about the purpose of my visit followed by the request of the questioner to become a shaliach at camp. After that, I went straight to Koska, where I enjoyed my necessary and ritual first cup of Cafe Hafuch or the Israeli equivalent of a cross between a latte and a cappuccino (or as Pini, the character in a series of short films on the internet my son introduced me to, would say “Cafe, eh how do you say - upside down. right Upside down...”). After I ordered, I turned around to see four burgundy t-shirts that red “Ramah Israel Institute, “ immediate familiarity. Speaking in Hebrew, I met each of the members of the RII team coming to welcome a day school group from the US.
Even today, I felt right back at home. A greeting by the fruit stand guy at the corner of Derekh Bet Lehem and Esther HaMalka; A quick visit to my dry cleaner where we exchange updates on our children; followed by a walk toward Yael and finally Emek Refaim. Over the course of the morning, I see no fewer than three Ramah Wisconsin alumni, two Ramah Darom shilichim, as well as two rabbis from the US. The same women who has been asking me for tzedakah, she usually stands around Emek Refaim and Rahel Imeinu, approaches me for my regular contribution. And I feel complete.
This is a beautiful time of year here. It is almost 80 degrees and dry, a far cry from the low 40s and rain of Chicago. The blossoms on the trees, bright pinks and purples, cast a radiance on everything nearby. The air is full of the smell of flowers and the chirping of birds. The parks are full with the sweet cries of children. The relaxed atmosphere of Friday, combined with the sounds, sights, and smells, adds to the sense of personal restoration. It always amazes me.
All of the natural and physical beauty of this season of the year stands in direct contrast to this week’s Parashah with its focus on skin maladies and the resulting external ugliness. The plain text of the Torah does not tell us why these skin diseases develop only that they render the person impure for a period of time. It is left to the Sages, based on their reading of this and other parts of the Torah, to make the connection between external maladies as reflections of internal flaws or certain trespasses of the law, such as the telling of tales or the spreading of gossip. Does a skin malady reflect a Divine consequence for a transgression? Are diseases sent by God to cause external pain as punishment for causing pain to another person? Even if not sent by God, do things happen to our skin that reflects things going on emotionally on our inside? Think about stress related rashes and the like.
So, this Shabbat, I will sit with the contrast of the outer natural beauty of this season in Jerusalem and the skin ugliness discussed in parashat Tazria. I will ponder the connection between what is going on the inside emotionally and how it might be reflected externally. And I will enjoy both the נשמה יתירה, the extra soul granted to us by God on Shabbat, and the completeness of my neshama that I feel whenever I am in Israel.