Parashat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59)

“All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated; he is contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46)

Parashat Tazria is a tough read for two reasons: the skin diseases it describes sound gross and the idea of someone being either tahor or tamei , pure or impure, as a result of illness, is foreign to most. At best, most people find the parasha (portion) quaint but irrelevant and turn the pages quickly.

Maurice Harris (American rabbi, writer, and teacher) believes our discomfort with purity and impurity is a function of the modern age and rationalism. For most of history, though, Divine energy, sacred power, and concepts of purity are as real as rocks. Using that as a starting point, Harris describes both tahara, purity, and tum’a, impurity, as energy forces. One attracts God and the other repels, as if God is Superman and tum’a is Kryptonite. This theology places a tremendous amount of power in humanity; since we can control our state of tahara (Tazria is about how to regain tahara when you lose it) we control God’s ability to dwell within our midst.

Tazria’s implication is God can’t be a solo act. God may create Divine energy, but we are its stewards; it’s up to us to manage it. The Torah gives us the means for doing just that: rules for living righteously and compassionately. Tazria also explains the presence and persistence of evil. Evil enters when God is absent. God’s absence (or presence) depends on our actions: are we (individually or communally) tahor or tamei, or, in today’s idiom, “Are our hands clean?”

It’s true the language of Tazria is archaic, but it’s also true the message is eternal. We expect a lot from God. Do we deliver on our part of the deal?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom