Torah This Week
Welcome to Torah This Week, where you will find thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on the Torah portion of the week.
TAZRIA-METZORAH (Lev. 12:1-15:33)
(Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59)
The beginning of Parshat Tazria describes the law regarding a woman after childbirth. She first goes through a period of ritual impurity, then through a period called "blood purification." Both of these time spans are twice as long after bearing a daughter as after bearing a son. This discrepancy is profoundly disturbing. Even more troubling is the requirement that, after her purification period, the woman bring a burnt offering and a sin offering to the Temple. Why a sin offering? Isn't childbirth a mitzvah? How has the woman sinned?
Perhaps the Torah anticipates that when a woman gives birth she may well be overwhelmed by her accomplishment. She feels so proud of what she has done that she takes full credit for the glory of new life! In so doing, she ignores the major role played in the miracle of reproduction by God, whose hand is seen in all such "natural" wonders. Her lack of humility and failure to acknowledge God's role are her sin.
Then why doubled periods of impurity and purification for a daughter? One possibility is that giving birth to a virtual copy of herself, a girl who will someday also be able to create life, increases a mother's pride and so requires a longer punitive period. Another is that the period of impurity after bearing a son is interrupted by the brit mila, circumcision (Lev. 12:3). This powerful ritual reminds the proud mother of God's role in the birth and in the continued life of her son. Since ancient Judaism had no covenant ceremony for daughters, a longer impurity/purification period was required.
Modernity has taught us to recognize the absolute covenantal value of Jewish women, and the resultant development of covenant rituals for newborn daughters enables them, like their brothers, to remind us of God's presence in the world.
(Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33)
The parsha opens with a description of the ritual for purifying a metzora, an Israelite stricken with a skin disease. The metzora is required to dwell outside the Israelite camp until the affliction has passed. On the day on which the metzora is eligible for purification, the Torah records that "he shall be brought to the priest" (Lev. 14:2). The next verse, however, reports that "the priest shall go outside the camp" to the place where the metzora has dwelt alone during his sickness. The classical commentaries explain the apparent contradiction by noting that the priest must go out to the metzora since the latter cannot return to the camp until the purification ritual has been performed.
To the commentators' explanations for the priest's behavior, we can add another insight. The metzora, as a result of contracting a disfiguring disease, has been exiled from the community. While this precaution may have risen from the desire to prevent the spread of a contagious disease, it undoubtedly left the metzora feeling emotionally, as well as physically, alone. Cured of his illness, the metzora is now permitted to rejoin the community, but the period of isolation may have left him angry and withdrawn. The priest goes out to meet the metzora in part to draw him back into the community. Reentering the community is a gradual process, reflecting the difficulty the metzora experiences reconnecting with other human beings.
Our communities include individuals who for one reason or another feel isolated. We cannot ignore these people or contribute to their feelings of estrangement. Fear of their afflictions is no excuse for causing them further pain. Just as the priest goes out to meet the metzora, so too we must reach out to those in our midst who have been excluded, drawing them back into a caring community.
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