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Parashat Tazria-Metzora

04/24/2020 03:13:37 PM


Shabbat Shalom! This Shabbat is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer. The kabbalistic realm of today’s omer is strength within harmony and compassion.

            This week’s double Torah portion, Parashat Tazria-Metzora is all about quarantine. It describes various forms of tza’arat - often translated as leprous afflictions - and the proscribed responses the priests must take for everyone else’s safety, including sending the infected out of the camp for a period of time to dwell in isolation.

            The traditional understanding of the reasoning for the tza’arat is that it is a punishment for gossip, and that the quarantining is as much for the sake of giving the rumors time to die down without the gossip present to continue spreading them as it is for the sake of containing of physical contagion. When a person, especially a community member that others may look to for leadership or be inclined to find trustworthy, spreads information that is incorrect or that isn’t theirs to spread, it causes harm to the whole community and the words must be shut out as much as the leprosy. Once the tza’arat of the gossipy one has cleared up, they must bring a sacrifice to the Mishkan as repentance before they are full considered clean and allowed to reintegrate into the community. The sacrifice to be brought includes two doves, which Rashi explains as such: “Because the plague of tzaraat comes as a punishment for evil talk, which is an act of chatter, therefore birds are needed for his purification, because they chatter continuously with a twittering sound.”

            Twittering and spreading falsehoods has no place in a healthy community and need to be put to an end in order for quarantine to lift in a way that keeps everyone. We can learn from the essence of this Shabbat’s omer that we are stronger when we learn to have compassion on one another and live in harmony together with mindfulness for the health and safety of all those we share this earth with. May each of us find our own healthy ends to isolation when the time is right, and may those who have worsened the situation through dishonesty and disregard for others take responsibility and make amends, that we may all see the benefits of a sacrifice of the heart, rather than the fruitless sacrifice of other people’s lives. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.


            The last bit of the parasha, continues with the beginnings of family purity laws, concerning bodily fluids and ritual purity. It is important to note that ritual impurity is not the same as dirtiness or immorality. It is simply a different state of being during which people may not be able to engage in certain specific types of behaviors. In the case of family purity laws, explained and expanded on extensively in the Talmud, this includes the prohibition of husband and wife touching during the period of the wife’s menstruation. The Talmud cites that the purpose of this time apart is not due to the “ickiness” of menstruation or any sort of punishment for the crime of having a uterus, though many modern feminist Jews may feel that sort of judgement of these laws. Rather, the Talmud uses this timing as merely naturally-influenced borders of relationships because absence makes the heart grow fonder. If touching is forbidden for one week each month for the first half of the marriage (give or take, depending on age at the time of marriage, menopause, and death), how much sweeter is the touching the other three weeks of the month, especially that first time after the week apart.


            How many people are using the time in quarantine to reach out to old friends, to reconnect and check on each other? We know that the basic premise of this thinking is true, time alone makes time spent together so much more appreciated, and vice versa. Whether or not we accept the Niddah laws or that this is truly the reason this week’s parasha starts giving us these commandments, we can learn from this how to best appreciate those we are missing. When this quarantine lifts, we can appreciate those hugs and community gatherings more than we ever have before. We will remember to keep in touch with those friends all over the country that we’ve seen more on video chat this month than we had in the previous year. We will be able to again truly enjoy watching tv alone because it won’t be the only thing we’ve done for three days straight.

            May we find gratitude in the every day joys of life, alone and together. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.  

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780