“And the priest shall go out of the camp; and the priest shall look…” …Leviticus 14:3
If you want to have a deep appreciation for a complex situation, you have to go out and see for yourself.
In this week’s Torah reading, the priest is told to get off his rear and go out of the camp to see the leper who claims to be healed. He does not rely on hearsay, he does not rely on someone else’s testimony, no matter how expert. He has to go out and see for himself.
Missouri is famously called the “Show Me” state. The true origins of the saying are somewhat obscured in the mists of time; however, one story traces it to Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver. In a speech he gave in 1899 he said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
Vandiver’s approach is good advice for all of us.
Living here in Israel the conflict with the Palestinians is a major preoccupation. Yet millions of voters have a very incomplete understanding of the realities on the ground. There are people on the left who have never visited a settlement; people on the right who’ve never had a real conversation with a Palestinian; and plenty of people in the middle who’ve never done either. I also try to follow the advice the Torah give the priest in this week’s portion: to get out of the camp and see for myself. Before the evacuation from Gaza, I visited a settlement in Gush Katif (you can read about it here). And in the course of my volunteer work with Rabbis for Human Rights, I have had many opportunities to meet Palestinians in the West Bank.
It’s one thing to read about the political situation here a newspaper. It’s a completely different experience to sit and talk with the people whose lives are most directly affected by the decisions made in Jerusalem (and Ramallah). Having heard both the pain of Jews who left the Gaza homes they lived in for many years, and the pain of the Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, I know there are no simple solutions to this conflict — and I know it on a much deeper level than I would if all I did was read about it on my iPad.
The same principle — go out and see for yourself — applies in a variety of contexts. As a manager, I have always made it a point to be in regular contact with both my customers and my workers. If you rely on sales people and managers as filters you get out of touch.
The Torah’s advice — get off your rear, go out of the camp, and look — is good advice not just for priests, but for all of us.