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.