Tazria (last Shabbat) and M’tzora (this Shabbat) are two weekly Torah parshiyot that I think we all have difficulty relating to. Just knowing that they are approaching in the annual Torah reading cycle with their images of skin disease, mold attacking our dwellings, child birth, and circumcision among other topics makes people wonder if they perhaps have other plans on those Shabbat mornings. All of the sacrifices that go along with these issues are covered as well. But in thinking about them this year, I have been trying to find some relevance to our contemporary lives.
Certain features stand out and can inform our lives even today. Those afflicted are ministered to by the priests including Aaron. Priests in ancient Israel took care of physical as well as spiritual concerns. Two conflicting interests are attended to in a very humane and caring manner. The afflicted person is removed from the community and held outside until healed. In this way the community does not become further afflicted so the greater good is maintained while the individual is allowed the time to heal. Throughout the process treatment is handled in a caring and careful manner. At no time does any of this treatment do anything that would challenge the dignity of the individual. Who better than those of the priestly class would know that each of us is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God? There is a mechanism in place which allows the individual to return to society and resume a normal life.
What also struck me was the idea that perhaps the individual wants and needs this time of separation. The concept in ancient Israel was that the afflicted person was ritually impure and unable to offer sacrifices – read: not able to approach God. And I think that someone in that condition is thinking about what it takes to recover and return to normalcy rather than performing their accustomed sacrifice. We all know how we feel with a cold or the flu on a Shabbat morning. Our minds are not in the right mode to daven. The person with tzara’at must have felt similarly and the separation provided the needed space and time to bring one back to the frame of mind needed to get close to God.
We are fortunate to have our weekly Torah reading cycle and I hope that you will find some moments this Shabbat to look for a new meaning in these ancient texts. Shabbat Shalom!