“…The priest shall make expiation on her behalf, and she shall be pure.” (Leviticus 12:8)
Parashat Tazria catalogues a variety of skin abnormalities that need to be examined by the kohen, or priest. The Torah assumes that physical ailments could be divine punishment for spiritual or ritual wrong-doing. If the kohen diagnoses impurity, the person is separated from the community.
The midrash (rabbinic interpretations) teaches that tzara-at (a catch-all term for skin diseases) is a punishment for slander and malicious gossip (Leviticus Rabbah, 16:1). Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883; founder of the musar (ethics) movement, which addressed the emotional and social aspects of Jewish life, and not just intellectual pursuits) says that gossip is a sin because it focuses on other’s shortcomings, rather than trying to improve yourself. Salanter interprets the removal of the individual from the community as a way of saying, “Go spend some time alone, reflecting upon your own faults.”
Purity is serious business in the Torah, so the fact that doubtful cases (of skin disease) are always ruled ritually pure makes a strong statement. The statement isn’t about purity, though. It’s about community. The Torah is clear that when a single member is missing, the community is incomplete, so it tries hard to avoid that. JCCs don’t talk much about purity, but we do talk a lot about community. The question is do we mean it. What does your JCC do to keep its community whole? And does anyone notice when somebody is missing?
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,