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Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5778 — 04/21/2018

Parshiyyot Tazria-Metzora 5778 — 04/21/2018

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

Gd spoke to Moshe, saying, “‘This shall be the law of the person afflicted with tzara’at on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the kohen. The kohen shall go outside the camp, and the kohen shall look and, behold, the tzara’at lesion has been healed from the afflicted person … For the person being purified, there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop. ” (14:1-4)

Thus begins the Torah’s rather long and involved description of the purification process that one must undergo to rejoin society after have been afflicted with tzara’at, a kind of skin lesion. It involves several offerings, sprinkling of various mixtures of liquids on the newly cleansed metzora, etc. Abarbanel points out first that tzara’at is not a physical disease, but a spiritual one that has physical symptoms:

In his commentary on parashat Tazria, Abarbanel emphasizes that the affliction of tzara’at was the physical manifestation of a spiritual imbalance in the afflicted individual as a result of his transgressions. These physical symptoms create a state of tumah, or ritual contamination, which can be transmitted to others. It’s nothing like a natural infectious disease, where the physical symptoms are transmitted to others. Rather, what is transmitted is not a physical disease, but a state of ritual contamination…

Since the disease is spiritual, the cause must be spiritual as well. Therefore, the metzora must go to the kohen for diagnosis, treatment, and finally, purification. We have pointed out in years past that the way Torah deals with tzara’at makes no sense at all were it a normal infectious disease, but does make sense if we are dealing with a spiritual affliction. Nevertheless, the spiritual imbalance has a physical effect. Why is this the case?

I think we can answer this question from our ordinary experience. Sometimes we do things that are wrong. Sometimes we even have pangs of conscience about them, until we figure out a rationalization for why what we did wasn’t so bad, or was even a good thing, or why that law doesn’t really apply in this situation, or to me. Eventually, this negative action becomes habit and slips below our radar. Generally, one’s conscience alone is not strong enough to keep us from doing wrong all by itself. But our body is harder to ignore. Pain is a great motivator of change. So is embarrassment. Part of our spiritual imbalance is that we primarily identify ourselves with our bodies, rather than primarily as a soul inhabiting a body, so virtually all spiritual imbalances need to express themselves as bodily disorders before we will take them seriously.

Perhaps there is a deeper connection at work here. We know that the mind and the body are coordinated with one another. Our bodies are the gross, surface level, time- and space-bound portions of our individuality. Subtler than our bodies are our minds, emotions, intellects, and egos. Our individuality is, as it were, a continuum from the most abstract sense of “I” to the gross, physical manifestation. This shows up, again, in our daily experience. We have a desire – this is on a very subtle level. The intellect processes this desire and comes up with a plan of action to fulfill that desire. This plan generates thoughts in our mind, and at some point, those thoughts become nerve impulses in our brains, which then translate into speech or action – i.e. bodily movements. Conversely, in the case of perception, an impulse comes from the environment (e.g. light) and creates electrical impulses (e.g. in the retina) which are transmitted to the brain, processed, and sent to the mind, the feelings, the intellect for further processing, and the “I” perceives.

So the mind and the body form one integrated system – the body is the grosser level of the system and the mind, intellect, ego are the subtler levels of the system. If the subtle levels get imbalanced, it means that the whole system is out of whack somehow, so it is no surprise that there will be symptoms on all levels. Furthermore, this implies that any physical symptoms have a corresponding deep cause in the subtler levels of the individuality. This seems to be the approach of many traditional systems of healing, and it has been adopted by some non-medical practitioners in the West. The idea is to treat the underlying, deep, spiritual cause of the physical problem, to put the system back in balance, and then the physical problem will resolve itself.

In fact, this approach is not new at all. Ramban (13th century), who was himself a physician, thought that the need to go to a physician to heal physical ailments was a sign of an individual or a community weak in faith. In his commentary to Vayikra 26:11 he writes:

“When the Jewish People are in a state of spiritual perfection, neither their physical bodies nor their country, nor any of their other affairs are governed by nature at all. This applies to the nation as a whole and to each individual Jew. For Gd `will bless their bread and their water, and remove illness from their midst’ (Exodus 23:25). They will have no need of doctors, nor will they have to follow medical procedures even as precautionary measures, `For I, Gd, am your healer’ (Exodus 15:26). In the era of prophecy, the tzaddikim acted accordingly. Even if they happened to sin and became sick, they consulted not doctors but prophets, as did King Hezekiah when he was sick (Kings II, 20, 2-3). Someone who seeks out Gd through the priest will not consult doctors.

“What place do doctors have in the house of those who carry out the will of Gd, after He promised that `He will bless their bread and their water, and remove illness from their midst’? The only function of the medical profession should be to give nutritional advice – what to eat and drink and what to avoid. …

The prophet does not deal with the surface level of life at all; his concern is with the transcendent, and with bringing the harmony of the transcendent out to the surface. When we follow their example and their exhortations, and lead lives of holiness, integrated lives, lives in harmony with Gd’s Will, we will experience perfect health, harmony and integration on all levels, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Tazria-Metzora

This parashah presents Gd’s commands about the states of being unclean and clean and also about the date for celebrating the beginning of a new year. When we are clean we can enter the Sanctuary and get the added ability to enjoy Gd’s Presence that the Harmonious Nature of the Sanctuary provides. Similarly, it seems to me, a new year provides an opportunity to let go any troubles that might have been veiling our experience of Gd’s Presence.

Oddly, a woman is considered unclean for some time after she gives birth: I say, “oddly”, because considering the Holiness of giving birth, we might expect that a new mother would be particularly clean and therefore most able to perceive Gd’s Presence and most welcome to enter the Sanctuary.

Nechoma Greisman on suggests an explanation that makes sense to me: Gd has commanded that a person who touches a dead body is ritually impure; when a woman is carrying her fetus in the womb, she is extra pure—she has two lives. When the child is born, she has only one inside herself, and so there is, in a sense, a loss of life. So she needs a bit of time and some ritual to feel fully alive again inside herself and not dependent upon her child outside herself to feel fully alive.

Whether this makes sense to everyone, I do not know and I would be very happy to hear from anyone, especially mothers, about its plausibility.  In other areas of our lives—for example, working on some extended project for work, home, service to community—there would certainly be the desire to celebrate when the project is complete but there might also be a feeling of loss, a feeling of emptiness because we no longer have the joy of hope to connect us to Gd’s Presence. We no longer have the silent prayer “Gd, please help!”  We have, instead, the joy of fulfillment, but perhaps some loss of the feeling that we need Gd and therefore less attention to the various spiritual practices that we do to connect to Gd.

Hopefully, we don’t have much of a loss, and we don’t have much time before we return to the perspective that what matters most in our life is not the fulfillment of any particular project, even childbirth, but deepening our connection with Gd, restoring our awareness to Fullness, to the experience of Oneness, Wholeness.

From my experiences with members of our congregation, readers of our newsletter, I am confident that we do maintain perspective, that every moment is a new year, our purity keeps rising and with it, our restoration of Full Awareness, Full Awareness that All is One, and One is Joy and Love, our Essential Nature.

Baruch HaShem