D’var Torah for April 12, 2019

We are in the middle of what some might refer to as the ‘icky’ part of the Torah. Last week we read from Tazria, and this week we are reading from parashat Metzorah. The portions are always combined when the Jewish calendar does not have an additional month. Perhaps this is because the rabbis wanted to get through these sections as quickly as possible.
Metzorah, in particular, deals with tzara’at, often translated as leprosy. However, it was more likely some sort of scaly skin ailment. Metzorah also presents us with cases of domiciles having some sort of a plague or possibly fungal or bacterial or mold infestation, though the Torah is not clear on this. We also encounter the issue of bodily emissions as well as menstruation.
In the cases of tzara’at and a ‘plague’ on a house, a priest is called in to inspect it. If they are determined to be infected, the priest will pronounce the purification rituals. There are also purification rituals as well for bodily emissions and menstruation.
The larger challenge is to make sense of all of this, as modern readers. One possibility is that it had to do with striving to create more sanitary conditions for the community. When someone or something is infected or afflicted, best to remove them from the community so as to prevent the disease from spreading. However, there are contradictions within the purification rituals that would support this argument.
A more likely interpretation is that the Torah is acknowledging real transformations and transitions within the sacred and the profane. Or as is written in the WRJ Women’s Torah Commentary, “The body passes through the various stages and is likely to cross several borders between ritually pure and impure over the course of its existence.”[1]
There is no value judgment placed on whether one is ritually pure or impure. It just means that if one is ritually impure, there are certain roles they cannot perform related to the sacrificial cult until they are in a state of ritual purity again.
If this is the case, then why spend so much time dedicated to ‘icky’ issues? The answer is in part because life is messy, yet the Torah is concerned with all aspects of life, not just those focused on prayer and ritual. This then empowers us and should also inspire us to ritualize all elements of life, including the ‘messy’ parts.
As Elyse Goldstein wrote in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, “each month, when I get my period, I say: ‘Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, she’asani ishah: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me a woman.’ Saying the blessing becomes a revolutionary moment … (it) affirms my holiness and sanctity within the context of menstruation, not despite it.”[2]
May we all continue to find ways to affirm our holiness and sanctity each and every day through sickness and health, and through all that life brings.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Eskenazi, Tarama Cohn and Andrea L. Weiss, ed., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, 2008, pg. 672.
[2] Ibid. pg, 675