If you’ve been a parent of a toddler, you can sympathize with my frustration. When my daughter is hurt or upset, I wish I could really understand what she’s trying to communicate to me. Her language is progressing normally, but until she can formulate thoughts into full sentences, both parties are simply left exasperated. I can gather she’s in pain when she bumps her head and lets out a scream, and I can tell when she’s uncomfortable because she tries to take off shoes or her shirt. But most of the time, there’s a lot of guesswork involved. Equally frustrating is what gets lost in translation from me to her: that if she sleeps she’ll feel better, if she’d stop banging her head against the wall it wouldn’t hurt, or if she simply believed she could do something, she might try and succeed. A 19-month-old doesn’t always recognize the results of her actions, and certainly doesn’t have the self-discipline that we as adults have been practicing for decades.
On the other hand, we adults have the ability to not only feel our aches and pains, but also to verbalize most of what we’re feeling. We understand the cause and effect of our actions. By now I know that banging my head against the wall will led to a headache, and negative self-talk will probably not make me feel any better. This doesn’t mean I always act in accordance with my understanding of logic, but it does mean that in some small way I’m able to monitor and modify my experiences.
This week we read two portions, Tazria and Metzora. The text of these parshiyot tells us of the laws for the purification of both our homes and our bodies after disease or death has occurred. The laws remind us that our bodies and our places of residence need to be treated with respect. We also have the obligation to help one another maintain that same level of healthy living. What’s most interesting is the implication that a healthy life is in part a result of a healthy attitude and a consciousness of our actions.
In chapter 14, verse 17 we read about the obligation to use oil on the head, hand, and foot as well as sprinkled on the altar as a method of spiritually cleaning away an illness. The head, the hand, the foot, and the altar – each location specifically suggested to convey the idea that the recovery from illness is a combined result of our actions, our attitudes, and divine grace. That is to say that in order to heal from what ails us mentally, physically, and emotionally, we must act differently, we must think differently, and we must find a spiritual center for ourselves.
Perhaps as a parent, instead of waiting for my child’s understanding of the world to mature, I can adjust my own outlook. When I had a newborn, there was no way I could fully relay to her the cause and effect of her actions. It was only after enough sleepless nights I realized that if I changed my own attitude, it would ease my expectations and disappointment. Our mind, our body, and our soul work together, according to the Torah, to help us effect positive change in us and in our world. May that notion guide our thoughts and actions this week.