Tazria-Metzorah: The D’var I wanted to give

This past Shabbat we read the double portion of Tazria-Metzorah, and while I was asked to give a d’var torah for a young adult Shabbat dinner, it was not the crowd to say what I really wanted to about the weekly portion. Instead I spoke about Yom Ha’zikaron and Y om Ha’atzmaut and featured some of Benji Lovitt‘s 64 Things I Love About Israel. While it was a good fit for the audience, it wasn’t what I really wanted to say and it ate at me throughout Shabbat. So I now present to you, the (slightly abbreviated) d’var I wanted to give.

This week we read the double parsha, Tazria-Metzorah.  Both of these portions address an always favorite subject: ritual impurities.

While it addresses tzarat, a skin disease which is generally translated as leprosy but known by our sages to be something unique, at length – it also addresses a few other types of ritual impurities including other skin diseases, a plague in one’s home, seminal emissions, menstrual blood and other general eruptions and discharges.

These are all descibed by the same hebrew word: tameh. This word gets translated as unclean.

But really, what does unclean mean? Does it mean you are physically dirty? Not so much. It refers to a ritual and spiritual impurity. That is why all the “treatments” are ritual, based around offerings, prayer, and other ritualistic actions – not to go take a shower.

The translation as “unclean” needs some rebranding because its connotation does not work in contemporary society.

My personal mission, is to help illustrate this point around the issue of women’s menstrual blood and the subsequent “laws of family purity” and mikvah.  If we are able to understand that following these laws does not mean that we believe ourselves to be physically unclean, we empower ourselves to make mikvah a spiritual experience of reconnecting to our body and its life giving abilities.

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4 thoughts on “Tazria-Metzorah: The D’var I wanted to give

  1. The first part of the problem is nearly insurmountable: we are dealing with notions and categories that don’t exist in Western culture or language. Both טומאה and טהרה are unique notions that highlight the true uniqueness of the Torah’s culture. Intelligent, educated Western-acculturated adults assume that they can understand just about anything with a bit of study. And they think that Judaism is a familiar Western subculture. Tumah and taharah highlight just how much this isn’t true. The same hold for other notions like ‘kodesh’ and ‘hol’. Translation is futile; and real understanding only begins when allowing the Torah to stand unviolated as its own unique cultural context.

    One place you might look, by the way, for interesting treatment of this is in Rav Hirsch. I would look in Horeb and his commentary to the Torah. What is especially useful about his educational approach (though a little dated for us) is his determination to teach Torah to educated Westerners who think philosophically, specifically German Jews of his time. Conversely, if I were to try to see the intuitive, more spiritual aspects involved I would be sure not to ignore Sefardi sources.

    I look forward to seeing what you do with this.

    • Thanks! I always love your insights.
      I know I will be fighting an uphill battle on this one, but I am determined to help shine some better lights on this particular issue to bring it out of the shrouded darkness.

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