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Friday, April 24, 2015 • 6:41pm
• Our Portion for the Week •
TAZRIA – LEVITICUS 12:1 – 13:59 This portion and the next, deal with laws of ritual purity. Such purity is conceived as a prerequisite for the pursuit of kedusha. Furthermore, because the Mishkan (sanctuary) was located within the camp of the Israelites, great care had to be taken to ensure its purity. The portions deal with specific physical conditions which give rise to impurity. The first is childbirth. The next is a complex of diseases known as tzaraat (translated "leprosy", but clearly not the modern disease). The priests are charged with the task of determining the nature of the ailment when it appears in humans or in fabrics and leather and the method of purification. Since all Israelites were obligated to strive to be kadosh in accordance with God's demand, the matter of maintaining a state of purity was of great significance.
METZORA – Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
This portion continues the presentation of the laws of ritual purity. In particular, the priests are instructed as to the purification rites for a person determined to be afflicted with tzaraat as described in the previous portion. Instructions are also given for dealing with tzaraat in building stones (some kind of mold, blight or rot that showed up in the plaster). Finally, procedures are set forth which are required when an Israelite, male or female, experiences discharges from the sexual organs. The Torah here seems to be classifying illness and disease as forms of impurity. Thus, they are placed in the realm of religious concern. All these impurities threatened, directly or indirectly, the purity of the sanctuary, which was located within the area of settlement. Therefore, for all Israelites, maintaining a state of purity was of great importance.
• Our Question for the Week •
As for the person with a leprous infection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover up his upper lip; and he shall call out, 'Impure! Impure!'
Some commentators assert that the leper's call of "Impure! Impure!" was a self-stigmatizing admonition for others to keep their distance, lest they be ritually contaminated. Others understand "Impure! Impure!" as an appeal by someone in a vulnerable state for aid and support from those in a position to offer spiritual solace. Which interpretation seems closer to the peshat – the original, contextual meaning of the text?
What other possible significance might we find in the leper's declaration? Could it be a reflection of his emotional condition? His perspective? His view of those around him and the system that has isolated him? If so, what response is warranted?
What might have motivated the transformation of Jewish religious life from preoccupation with physical purity to the sanctification of time, and with it a greater capacity for empathy and emphasis on an individual's spiritual needs? How does your own or your community's celebration of sacred time include openness "to those who needed God the most"?
Are there people or groups whom we should deem "Impure! Impure" today, and from who we should separate ourselves? Who are those with "the feeling of being unwanted" who most deserve our prayers, attention, and practical support?