April 1, 2022
For years we have touted the value of the annual physical exam. Health insurance companies see it as of such critical value that most do not even charge a copay for this evaluation.
Additionally, in recent years, we have entered a new phase of recognition and appreciation for assessing our mental health. The stigma that was once associated with over-extending our mental capacities, stress, anxiety, and depression, to name a few, has now become much more accepted (although not yet totally) in today’s society.
But what about a spiritual examination?
In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we read of the Cohen going through intricate inspections to identify an unexplainable ailment known as “tzaraat.” This supernatural condition (often mistakenly described as leprosy) is actually a physical manifestation of a spiritual ailment. Tzaraat is a biblical disease with no modern-day equivalent. In fact, Gd used tzaraat as the final example to convince Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 4:6) that he was the one tasked to go back to Egypt to free the Hebrews.
So how do we perform this obscure spiritual evaluation today? It’s actually not as complicated as it might seem. The key to the spiritual exam is to reflect on our physical abilities and connect them to the deeds being or yet to be performed. For instance, do our legs walk us to or from the opportunity to do good? When we walk down a city street and see a homeless person on the sidewalk do we cross over to the other side so as to avoid having to face the issue at hand, or do we walk toward the opportunity to perform a mitzvah?
What about our hands? Do they give or take? Does our hearts beat for Gd or for ourselves? Do our eyes see the beauty and opportunity in the world, or do we see all that is bad? Are the words coming from our mouths kind and supportive, or critical and complaining? Do our ears listen to the needs of others, or do we simply hear the white noise of isolation?
Candidly, I don’t remember the last time I personally underwent a spiritual examination. But I do know that being asked this week how I felt, when it had nothing to do with my physical condition, got me seriously reflecting and ultimately undergoing a spiritual exam.
“How do you feel?” is usually reserved for asking someone who is sick or recuperating from an ailment to share if they are improving or not. Asking “How do you feel?” to a healthy person is a seemingly strange and unnecessary question.
As I have been preparing to head to Poland this weekend, and consequently to the Ukrainian-Polish border, I have been asked in a different number of forums, how I feel. Obviously, I was not being asked about my physical condition and so I struggled to respond to the question.
But in reflecting on the question and being reminded of the need to perform my terribly overdue spiritual exam, I converted the feelings of honor, pride, and privilege, yet anxious, concerned, and sad, into becoming a shaliach mitzvah (messenger of a mitzvah).
Having the opportunity (coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America) to personally distribute the medicines donated by our incredibly generous San Antonians of all faiths to those in need; being able to share the messages of support, recognition, and heartfelt appreciation to the volunteers taking care of the refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland; and being able to say “thank you” to the locals opening their homes and hearts during this humanitarian crisis, offers me a rare (if not once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity to simply be a vessel for performing mitzvot.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of failing forward, the feedback, comments, and discussion since its posting have been heartwarming. But the reason I bring it up this week is that if I would have had to evaluate my previous spiritual assessments if I was honest with myself, I probably would have given me a failing grade more often than not. Yet, as I wrote in that article, sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our accomplishments. Therefore, this week, may we all take a few minutes to perform a much-needed spiritual exam, and let’s be there for one another no matter the outcome because we are…