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

“You shall put the Israelites on guard against their impurity, lest they die
through their impurity by defining my Tabernacle which is among them.” (15:31)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. The moon’s cycle determines the months, but the sun’s cycle determines the year. 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 is a tough read. The skin diseases it describes sound gross and accepting a physical symptom as a sign of moral or spiritual failure is foreign to modern sensibilities (even as we have a more sophisticated understanding of the mind-body connection). Many people find the concepts of tahara and tum’a, purity and impurity, quaint but irrelevant and turn the pages quickly. That’s unfortunate, because embedded within the ritual minutia is an eternal truth much “in the news” today.

When someone discovers a skin disease, Tazria mandates, “The kohen, or priest, shall look on him…” (Lev. 13:5) S’forno (c. 1470–c. 1550; Italian commentator and physician) offers two reasons the kohen, or priest, makes the diagnosis (rather than a healer). The first is the belief the physical anomaly represents a spiritual crisis. The second is because the kohen possesses expertise accumulated over a career of examining individuals with these symptoms, fulfilling the Biblical injunction, “For the kohen’s lips should keep knowledge.” (Malachi 2:7)

Knowing and believing are not the same; one requires evidence, the other doesn’t. The kohen certainly is a believer, but in this case, acts on his hard-gained knowledge. A thriving world benefits from faith, but relies upon facts.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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