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A Weekday Taste of Torah: 5777, April 23-29 2017

A Weekday Taste of Torah for the double Torah Portion of Tazria-Metzor’ah,

Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33

5777, April 23-29, 2017


“Acknowledgement of Error: A Step Toward Recovery”

Let us imagine a discussion between two revered Rabbis on these combined Torah portions from about 1,800 years ago.

“Oh, noble colleague, would you like to lead a Torah discussion this coming Shabbat on the content of these two Torah portions, which describe the priestly reaction to childbirth, various skin afflictions, personal cleanliness, leprosy, and what to do in the event of certain bodily fluid discharges among the people of Israel?”

“Oh, no, my dear colleague. I believe you are worthier than I. You have more skill and knowledge on these texts with which to inspire our worshipers.”

“Are you sure you would not rather offer commentary on them? After all, you have never offered a D’var Torah on these portions, and it is, rightly, your turn.”

“That may be true, my friend, but you are more senior in our community than I, and it would honor you – because of your, uh, stature – to bring clarity to these verses.”

So it would go. Back and forth. ‘After you, my dear Alphonse!’

Long ago the Rabbis were modest to a fault, and even though they wrote extensively about sexual matters and discussed in writing many topics that we might consider off-color (that is a pun from the Torah portion; see Leviticus 13:6), personally they were repelled even by the Torah sections that dealt with them.

Therefore, what do we do when we encounter sections of the Torah that challenge our comfort levels? We must still learn something from the texts. In Pirkei Avot, a Second century collection of wise sayings from the Talmudic masters, Rabbi Ben Bag Bag (that is his name; this is not a typo) said, “Turn it and turn it again, for all is contained in Torah; see through it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing that works better than it.”

So, let us take one brief glimpse at Leviticus 13:45. Here, we find one place in these two portions where the person afflicted with a skin illness must be proactive in his/her return to health:

“The person with leprosy, in whom there is the lesion, his garments shall be torn, his head shall remain unshorn, he shall cover himself down to his mustache [as a mourner], and proclaim, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’”

In most of the portion, it is the priest who offers an evaluation and the remedy; usually the priest prescribes bathing and banishment from the camp for a while. But here, the afflicted people must own up to their impure status, and declare it publicly.

A personal admission of uncleanliness would certainly have been embarrassing, but owing to the Torah’s understanding of how such illnesses are transmitted, it would be ethically proper for an afflicted person in the community to provide ample warning to anyone coming near that there is uncleanliness present. In this way, the Torah felt it could stop the spread of illness and disease. So, even though it may be awkward or uncomfortable, the self-acknowledgment of uncleanliness leads to a communal benefit, and eventually to a status of purity.

Perhaps, therefore, we can draw a connection between this verse to public admissions of guilt by those in the public eye, such as actors or politicians who possess some taint of impurity. How much more do we admire someone who publicly and sincerely owns up to a mistake rather than those who conceal their guilt and responsibility of which everyone is aware anyway?!

Through this acknowledgment of personal error, we can make progress toward recovery and rehabilitation. Doing so requires courage and determination, and it is this that the Torah suggests for all of us.

Suggestion for further exploration: http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/tazria-m%E2%80%99tzora https://jewishrecon.org/divrei-torah#book-Leviticus