Tazria-Metzorah: Our people’s approach to life

While Rabbis often dread having to preach about our Torah portion (who likes to speak about skin eruption called tzaraat), it is a very suggestive one, and presents, an image of the holiness of the Israelite people.

Tzaraat is a substance that is supposed to remain inside the body; it is “unnatural” when it flows out, in other words, our reading is about boundaries. Because the skin eruption is a death-skirting impurity it is appropriate that the patient be examined by the kohen, as though he or she were an offering being brought to the altar. Indeed, we are given much more detail about how carefully the kohen is to examine the human subject than we are told how he would examine a sacrificial animal.

If the person is found to be a m’tzora, someone infected by tzaraat, the person is put in quarantine for seven days It is remarkable that the same procedures are instituted for the most pure, the priests – the same amount of time Aaron and his sons were secluded during the period of their consecration –, and the least pure, the m’tzora.

And it continues in the same way: the priest purifies the “healed” m’tzora  in the same fashion as the priests are consecrated—by sprinkling blood on them. Of course, it is in the spaces between these extremes—the most pure and the least pure—that the body of Israel dwells. While the non-priest cannot attain to the purity of the kohen, men and women are protected from the destructive impurity of tzaraat by the procedures outlined in our reading, in which the affected person comes as close to the experience of the kohen as a “layperson” is permitted. The ordinary Israelite’s vulnerability to tzaraat paradoxically creates a kind of democracy erasing some of the distinctions between kohen and Israelite.

In non-leap years like this one we read both Tazria and M’tzora together. There is comfort in this pairing: the first portion describes the outbreak and treatment of the disease; the second portion describes the welcoming of the healed victim back into the community. On years when they are read separately, it is as though we are living out the victim’s condition—for a whole week; the victim’s weeklong isolation becomes part of our life as well, until the person is welcomed back when it is time to read the new portion. In years like this one, by condensing the diagnosis, treatment, and welcome into the same week, we are reminded of the hopefulness that is so much a part of the Jewish people’s approach to life; though we may begin a period of time with bad news, there is treatment and transcendence waiting at the end.

May we draw strength and transformation from the spiritual waters, the study of our Torah. Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Richard N Levy)

Torah Reading Shabbat Tazria-Metzorah

Leviticus 12:1-15:33; Reading Lev. 13:29 – 40

Plaut p.735; Hertz p.460

Haftarah II Kings 7:3-20; Plaut p.765; Hertz p.477

In our weekly Torah portion:

* God describes the rituals of purification for a woman after childbirth and sets forth the methods for diagnosing and treating a variety of skin diseases, including tzara-at (a leprous affection), as well as those for purifying clothing.

* Priestly rituals to cure tzara-at when it afflicts humans are described and those to rid dwelling places of tzara-at.

* The parashah denotes male impurities resulting from a penile discharge or seminal emission.

* The parashah concludes with accounts of female impurities caused by a discharge of blood.


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