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Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5777 — 04/29/2017

Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5777 — 04/29/2017

Tazria – Vayikra 12:1-13:59
Metzora –Vayikra 14:1-15:33

After having dealt with impurities that we encounter in the environment, which prevent us from connecting with Gd when we come into contact with them, the Torah turns to internal sources of impurity. These seem to fall into two general categories. The first is tzara’at lesions on the skin, in clothing or in our houses, which are considered to be a Divine indication that something is amiss in our behavior and afford us an opportunity to reflect on where we are at spiritually and make the necessary corrections. The other is discharge from our organs of reproduction, either from normal functioning (menstruation, insemination, childbirth) or from some abnormality (zivah – abnormal discharges).

Right at the beginning of the parashah we run into the number 8 again:

… and on the eighth day you shall circumcise the flesh of his foreskin (12:4)

Why is the bris specifically on the eighth day? Commentators have noted that this guarantees that the baby will have experienced a Shabbat and will therefore be spiritually fortified for the bris. Ramchal begins with the 7-day period of impurity that the mother of a baby boy goes through:

… why must we be told that the woman conceived, would it not have sufficed for the Torah to begin with “when a woman gives birth to a male”? The additional word tazria, conceives, alludes to the spiritual lights which are passed down to the child. The male child is endowed with spiritual lights comprised of seven permutations of Hashem’s Names whose sum, 687, is equivalent to the numerical value of tazria. [RAR: There are many more than these seven permutations; why these specifically are chosen I don’t know. The full text of Ramchal may give more insight, or one might have to go to the Zohar or other primary text to get an explanation. This is assuming that one can understand either of them.]
During a woman’s pregnancy, the blood that she normally expels in menstruation remains with her body. The more refined aspects of this blood contribute to the strengthening and development of the fetus, while the less refined aspects gather and are eventually expelled with the opening of the womb at childbirth…
For seven days the tumah occupies itself with the blood she is expelling and is not involved with the uncircumcised child to which she has just given birth. During this period the child is endowed with seven spiritual lights, an additional one with the passage of each day totaling seven (these are different than the lights of the seven permutations of Hashem’s Names). These spiritual lights build up and strengthen the child’s soul and by the eighth day the child is fully endowed with all of these lights. Now the foreskin may be removed from the child and thrown to the forces of tumah. This “gift” keeps the tumah occupied and thus it will not attempt to prevent this child from being incorporated into kedusha.

I won’t go into how this comports with modern medical knowledge, but there are various traditional forms of medicine (Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc.) that use different approaches to understanding human anatomy and physiology, and it is not clear that they are any less effective than Western medicine. In any event, we see that the number seven is integral to the formation of the boy’s body, and perhaps to the soul as well, although it would seem that the soul comes from on high and just dwells within the body. The spiritual lights to which Ramchal refers may be influences that refine the body, raising it from a purely animal function to one which can support and clothe a human soul. Perhaps these spiritual lights correspond to various potential styles of functioning of the human nervous system that support specifically human consciousness.

Let me interject here that a new mother who gives birth to a girl is tamei for two weeks, and of course there is no bris. The period of purity that follows the initial impurity is also doubled, from 33 to 66 days, for a total time that the new mother cannot enter the Temple or eat the meat of offerings of 40 days for a boy and 80 for a girl. Ramchal does not discuss this difference in the excerpts I have. Since women, in Jewish thought, are on a higher spiritual plane than men, it may be that their bodies require more spiritual input than a boy’s, which puts greater demands on the mother.

Finally, the eighth day comes, and the bris is performed. It must be performed during the day, as the daytime is when chesed predominates, as opposed to the night, which is the realm of din and tumah. We need to invoke chesed not only for the healing of the wound, but also because at this time tumah is removed from the child – in other words, the child is making a transition into the Jewish people, a transition to a higher level of kedusha, a higher level of organization. All times of transition have an element of rapid and possibly chaotic change involved in them, as in a physical phase transition (or a political transition for that matter). This is a ripe field for tumah to enter, so we arrange matters to make sure it doesn’t.

There is an expression: “If you want to pray with kavvanah (intentionality, one-pointedness), strip your body from off your soul.” The body is a covering over the soul. It has its purpose in allowing the soul to interact with the material world, but it also hides from us our essential spiritual nature. Our mission in life is to transcend our body, our individuality, and experience our inner essence, which is the inner essence of everything in the universe. On the eighth day, the day that is transcendental to the seven days of creation, the covering foreskin is removed from the baby boy, signaling and catalyzing his dedication to a life of transcendence. Every experience of transcendence that we have purifies us and expands us and takes us more and more out of the realm of tumah and into the realm of kedusha. It is up to us to find ways to have that experience, so that we can be all that Gd intended us to be.

Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshiyot Tatzria – Metzora

“Levi” means “attached, pledged” – to Gd.
This double parshah in the Book of Leviticus continues the theme of clean versus unclean, offerings to draw near to Gd, qualifications to touch holy objects, to approach the sanctuary, and quarantined or allowed to be with the community to be in the camp (in Gd’s Presence) or outside the camp.

A few sentences are spent on a woman who has just given birth and her disallowance to touch holy objects and to approach the sanctuary and then the rest of Parshah Tazria and Metzora are spent on blemishes of the skin, of garments and even of walls and how to identify them and how to heal them.

Though giving birth is a blessing, and having a skin disease is not, Talmud declares that the reason Torah requires the pregnant woman to give a guilt and sin offering is that she probably said or thought in her pain that she would never have sex again — this goes against Torah commandment and thus is sinful thought or speech. For the person with the skin disease, the disease is considered to have occurred due to evil speech — slandering a neighbor. And so this person must be cleansed, quarantined, bring an offering.

Looking at this symbolically, Rabbi Shefa Gold talks about childbirth and any creative process as requiring some time in isolation and the need to make offerings to restore the connection to the parts of life we have neglected and to heal our ego from the pride that we have created all by ourself, without the community and without Gd.

A skin disease, Rabbi Gold proposes, is the breaking out on the surface of our life of a problem in our inner life, some lack of harmony within our mind, within our heart and mind; time and isolation are needed for our inner life to find a way back to harmony and a unified sense of purpose. And an offering to Gd and to our community is helpful to restore our harmony not only within ourself but between our inner self and our outer self — Gd and the community.

As a general principle, we can get from these two parshas, the need for some time of rest (isolation) and activity (offerings, drawing near) to keep our inner life and outer life, healthy, harmonious, balanced, pledged and attached to Gd.

We are very fortunate to have a congregation and a community where both rest and activity are becoming increasingly profound, increasingly harmonized, increasingly pledged and attached to Gd and to each other.

Baruch HaShem!