The Torah teaches about the tragedy of one with tzaarath (spiritual leprosy) and their exclusion from society until they are healed. They are the quintessential outsider and the paradigmatic alienated individual.
There is a fascinating ritual that the metzora (one with this spiritual leprosy) performed upon gaining freedom from illness and seclusion. Part of the ritual is that she or he takes a live bird out to a field and sets it loose. To attain her own freedom, she watches a bird gain its freedom and ascend into the skies. We can be inspired by the flight of the bird as it fully and immediately embraces its freedom.
Today, many escape dark places in life but don't know where to turn for light. Those completing a divorce, reentering society from prison, finishing hospital treatment, and many others don't always have the family, friends, community, resources, or inspiration to reemerge with full vigor. It is our job to help support their transition and be a walking light in their journey. We should hold them and help them to fly to healing and to connect with their core life potential and actualization.
Today, many people suffer with modern spiritual leprosy and have taken steps to regain their freedom. Here are some examples:
• Rebecca Wicks was a drug addict for 13 years, and acknowledges that it was her "security blanket." Even a hospitalization did not lead her to seek help. It was not until she had been nearly beaten to death that she began to seek the help and company of people who were not addicts. She now writes a blog and works with the group ShatterProof, which helps former addicts stay off alcohol and drugs.
• J.R. Childress was imprisoned in Chino, California, a state in which more than half of all inmates released return to prison within two years. Fortunately, Childress was offered a unique prison training opportunity, commercial diving, which has allowed him to become an underwater welder and bracer. The recidivism from this program is close to zero, indicating that it is possible for outcasts today to reenter society if they are provided a means to climb out of their exile.
When the Israelites escaped from Egypt and crossed the sea, they finally realized they were free after seeing the Egyptians drowning in the sea. Full of the joy of liberation, they wanted to sing. But as slaves for centuries, they had forgotten how to sing. The Midrash teaches that they looked up to the heavens for help. In the sky, they saw birds chirping and they learned once again how to sing. Once again, the bird emerges as a model for freedom.
Consider the teaching of Dionne Brand in "Nothing of Egypt":
Revolutions do not happen outside of you, they happen in the vein, they change you and you change yourself, you wake up in the morning changing. You say this is the human being I want to be. You are making yourself for the future, and you do not even know the extent of it when you begin but you have a hint, a taste in your throat of the warm elixir of the possible.
To cultivate an inner revolution, we must be deeply present in life. American dancer/choreographer Martha Graham wrote to Agnes DeMille, another American dancer/choreographer, about the importance of keeping our channel open.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not hear it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; not how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even need to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction at any time. There is only a divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.
We need each other! May we all learn to emerge from our dark places and may we serve as lights for others in their journeys.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute and the author of multiple books on Jewish ethics and spirituality. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America."