Posts Tagged 'Tazria'

Between Tzara’at and Acne

In Tazria, this week’s Torah portion, we read about various forms of biblical ritual impurity. For much of this portion and next week’s portion of Metzora we read about what happens when a person had swelling, rash, discoloration, scaly affection, inflammation, or burn. It was to be reported to the priest, who was to examine it to determine whether the person was clean or unclean. This skin disease (צָּרַעַתtzara’at) is incorrectly translated as “leprosy”.

This disease appears other places in the Torah. First we see it as a tool to help Moshe to convince others that God had sent him to get them out of Egypt. God instructed Moshe to put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, his hand was m’tzora’at- as white as snow. (Exodus 4:6). Later on we learn that after Miriam spoke against Moshe, God’s cloud removed from the Tent of Meeting and “Miriam was m’tzora’at as white as snow” (Numbers 12:10). While it seems that tzara’at lacks context in Tazria and Metzora, what meaning can we make of it in the the context of the cases of Exodus and Numbers?

For Moshe tzara’at represented a symbol of God’s unique control of the natural world. If God could change flesh white, surely God could force Pharoah’s hand to let the Israelites to leave Egypt. For Miriam tzara’at seemed to be a supernatural punishment for her speaking bad of her brother.  At first blush there does not seem to be any connection. On further exploration it seems that there is a connection between their outcomes. For Moshe tzara’at was a means of communicating and bringing about their Exodus. For Miriam tzara’at was the consequence that symbolized her temporary exile. On a fundamental level tzara’at is connected to notions of exodus, exclusion, and shame.  When do we want to leave, when we do not want to be sent out, and what is the shame associated with not being where you want to be.

I was thinking about all of this this week when Yadid went to his first dermatologist appointment. He is 15 years old,  in the thick of teen hormone storm. and dealing with the acne that comes with it.  While neither of us have never experienced tzara’at, my son and I have had plenty of skin blemishes between us. With each zit, cyst, or scab I have had discomfort on one level and social stigma on another. With Tazria and Metzora I am brought back to my 15 year old self with a big zit in the middle of my face. At the same time I wanted to be included in ( Miriam) and liberated from ( Mosche) any and every social environment.  We should all be freed from shame.

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My Defining Moment

We read in Tazria Metzoria, this week’s Torah portion, that when a person is afflicted with tzaraat they must dwell alone outside of the camp until they are healed. Tzaraat is commonly translated at leprosy but was actually a scaly affection of the skin with some discoloration. It was not contagious, but rather is seems to have been a symptom of an inner spiritual disorder.  Why is dwelling outside of the camp so transformative?

I was thinking about this recently when reading a paper that my Yishama had to write. His assignment was to explore a defining moment in his life to date. This is what he wrote and the drawing that accompanied it:

Before I went to sleep-away camp I wasn’t independent or responsible. I was not responsible because I didn’t ask for any responsibility. I wasn’t as productive at school because I didn’t have a sense of how important school was. I relied on my parents and au pair a lot because I didn’t have to be independent or responsible.

The summer I went to sleep-away camp changed my life. At sleep-away camp I was introduced to many kinds of people. The environment at camp was different because there were all kinds of people and different ways of living, which helped open me up to new foods and lifestyles. When I came home from camp my parents were surprised by how much I had changed and matured.

After I came home from sleep-away camp, I was more independent, responsible, and didn’t rely on other people as much. When I came home from camp my parents trusted me enough to let me do a lot of things I had not been allowed to do before I went to camp, such as staying home alone and making my own plans. When I came back from camp I was more productive in class because I knew the value of education.  Meeting some of my new friends at camp showed me how much they valued education and they inspired me to keep learning more – just like they do. Going to sleep-away camp opened my eyes to the world around me and the person I aspire to be.

For Yishama leaving home and going to camp helped his grow in his confidence and sense of responsibility. Coming into contact with all kinds of people and different ways of living helped Yishama open up. When he returned from a summer at Camp Stone he was transformed spiritually. I can only assume leaving camp was as transformative to the ancient Israelites. And in both cases I assume when they came back they needed a really good shower.

Purification Process: Primaries and Tazria

I recently read the New York Times endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. While there was nothing particularly surprising there, it did remind me how we are in the midst of one the strangest presidential primaries ever. The Op Ed said:

For the past painful year, the Republican presidential contenders have been bombarding Americans with empty propaganda slogans and competing, bizarrely, to present themselves as the least experienced person for the most important elected job in the world. Democratic primary voters, on the other hand, after a substantive debate over real issues, have the chance to nominate one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history. ( NY Times 1/30/2016)

In its ideal form the process of the primary is to give the nation two vetted choices of people worthy of the post. Unlike in any primary I remember this one is schlepping on and on. It is almost as if this primary is a gestation process that I am not sure who we want to see come to term.

I was thinking about this while reading Tazria, this week’s Torah portion. There we learn that when a woman gives birth she should undergo a process of purification, which includes immersing in a mikvah and bringing offerings to the Holy Temple. Along with creation of a new and pure life of the child the mother is asked to purify herself and provide an offering at the temple.

I recalled  the following image on Facebook.

jon-stewart-daily-show-bernie-sanders-candidates

Regardless about what you think about Bernie Sanders as person, politician, or prospect for President, you have to give him credit for bring authentic back to politics. Good leadership is being honest, present, aware and vulnerable of one’s own limitations, having a robust vision for the future, and having the tenacity and temerity to fight for that vision while making sure everyone gets what they need.

While I am concerned about who will be the next president, I am also concerned for purity of the nation that will give birth to these candidates for next president of this country. What will be our purification process post-election?

 

 

 

Holy Evolution

A little girl asked her mother, “Where did human kind come from?’ The mother answered, ‘God made Adam and Eve and they had children and so the story goes. From them came the human race.” Two days later the girl asked her father the same question. The father answered, “Many years ago there were apes from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they evolved from apes?” The mother answered, “Well, dear, it is very simple.I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”
This joke is funny for the very reason that it is important to give some thought to how we talk about the origin of our species to our children. Are we like Adam and Eve in that we too were created in the image of God? Are we arrested that we falling away from the greatness of Adam and Eve? Or alternatively is our origin the lowly ape? Are we progressing away from apes and our ancestors? Does either have an impact on how we treat our elders or ourselves? As a Modern Orthodox Jew I do not feel that I need to apologize for either my conviction in science or the Torah, both are true. But having a complex understanding of the world does not make it easier as a parent . I understand this issue is often framed as a zero sum, one is right or the other.  What will I tell my children about the narratives as to the origin of the human race? Or even more importantly, what values are communicated in the story ?
I was thinking about these questions when reading the transition from the end of Shmini, last week’s Torah portion, and the start of Tazria, this week’s Torah portion. At the end of Shmini we read all of the laws of Kashrut, what animals we can and cannot eat. At the start of Tazria we read:
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. ( Leviticus 12:2-3)
On this Rashi quotes Midrash:
Rabbi Simlai said, ” Just as the fashioning of man came after all cattle, beast , and fowl  in the Torah’s account of the Myth of Creation so is the case with God’s law explaining [this] after the law of cattle, beast, and fowl.” (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1)

Might this narrative give us what we are looking for? A combination of divine dignity of all people coming down from Adam and Eve without the feeling that we are falling away from greatness. Might we actually couple the idea of human progress of evolution with the idea that we are but animals? We have a holy responsibility as the top of the evolutionary chain.


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