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Parashat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

“This shall be the law of the leper on the day of his purification: he shall be brought to the priest.”
(Leviticus 14:2)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of the way the Jewish calendar is calculated. Months are determined by the moon’s cycle, but the year is determined by the sun’s. Therefore, a Jewish year (including leap years, which add an entire month) can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Tazria-Metzora begins by specifying how long a woman is impure after giving birth to a boy. Then, in the very next verse, it commands, “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Lev. 12:3) These verses illustrate the connection between our physical selves and our spiritual selves. The Torah expects us to worship God with both our bodies and our souls, because one cannot exist without the other. That’s why Tazria-Metzora focuses on the physicality of humanity.

Circumcision first appears in the story of Abraham as a sign of the covenant. (Gen. 17:10-14) And the circumcision ceremony invokes that episode (we enter the child “…into the covenant of our father Abraham.”). However, Maimonides (1137-1204; the preeminent Spanish medieval Jewish philosopher), claims the obligation to circumcise comes not from Genesis, but from the verse we read this week in Tazria. That is because only the commandments given at (or after) the revelation at Mt. Sinai are binding upon us. So we observe the commandment of brit milah (circumcision) not because Abraham did it, but because God commands us to enter the covenant of Abraham with a brit milah.

Maimonides is telling us history (or folklore) is not the reason for observing commandments. Rather, commandments are expressions of faith. As such, there is no rational way to justify them. Instead, we are left to simply obey them, letting our physical being become an instrument of spirituality.

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