Learning from Isolation – Parshat Tzav

Many are bemoaning the government-imposed isolation during these days of COVID-19. "It isn’t fair. It won't help. It's too hard. How will I manage with the kids? In White Russia they're not doing it." There is so much conversation, confusion and convoluted conspiracy theories flying around that it is hard to make sense and get answers to the real questions and concerns we have. Isolation is perhaps the most difficult of all the protocols being thrust upon entire communities and nations these days. It seems to go against the very fabric of the human race as a social being.

Surprisingly, (it bothers me  how many times I am still surprised even though I have read through the Chumash over 50 times) even in the Torah  the concept appears.1 There are two verses that demand of the kohanim that their movements be restricted during the days leading up to their appointment so that they can better prepare for their service in the Mishkan. The first of the two pesukim (Vayikra 7:33), commands the kohanim not to leave the area of the Mishkan for seven days, while the second (ibid. 7:35), commands them to sit in the Mishkan day and night for seven days. This seems superfluous – why command the kohanim to stay in the Mishkan when they were just forbidden to leave? While it is not unusual for there to have a commandment written as a positive and negative command, there is often a reason for the seeming repetition. Rabbi Klonimus Kalman, author of the classic Chassidic work Maor Vashemesh, noted that in the second verse (as quoted above) the words day and night are added. While sitting in the Mishkan and reviewing the procedures in the Mishkan, he explains, the kohanim are expected to merge the understanding of the underlying concepts of "day" and "night". They are not simply to sit and wait and review standard procedures while in their seven-day isolation – they are expected to grow spiritually as well. The isolation of the kohanim, therefore, had a twofold purpose. To train and to grow.


When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. 



Rabbi Chananya Berzon adds another perspective to this isolation period. He challenges his listeners to think ahead to the end of this isolation period and be able to answer the question: "What did I learn or accomplish during this period of isolation?" 

How we manage this challenge - globally, national and personally – is up to us. This situation is not one of our conscious choosing. Yet, as Doctor Viktor Frankl wrote 75 years ago, "When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer— we are challenged to change ourselves."2 That is our choice even today. That is within the range of options we have as responsible and capable humans.

Isolation, is intended on the one hand to protect us. It can also be an opportunity for growth.

In memory of those lost to COVID-19 and in prayer to God for a speedy recovery for those afflicted by it.


  1. This wonderful, 7-minute audio relates how often the concept of isolation appears in the Torah and also discusses how this relates to Pesach. https://www.yutorah.org/sidebar/lecture.cfm/950492/rabbi-chananya-berzon/tzav-isolated-introspective/
  2. Frankl, Viktor E.. Man's Search for Meaning (p. 112). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

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