Parshat Tazria

Torah Reading for Week of March 31 – April 6, 2019
“Towards a Well-Examined Life”

By Rabbi Joshua Ginsberg-Margo, ’17

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

I must admit that I feel a connection to this parshah because this was the portion about which I presented a D’var Torah when I became Bar Mitzvah.  I admit that at the time, I was quite uncomfortable with the contents.  The chapters encompassed in Tazria discuss after-birth and skin afflictions (think acne to an adolescent) – not the topics that a thirteen-year old boy gravitates toward easily.  But thirty-seven years have passed and I hope that I can now find some deeper meaning to these chapters than before.

 

I believe that my past discomfort with these two chapters was related to my focus on the content and not the process.  The beauty of this parshah, and of Vayikra in general, is that when we are thrown from the “path,” we are shown a way back.  When we experience a life-altering event, whether positive, like the delivery of children (chapter 12), or negative, like the death of the sons of Aaron (previously, in chapter 10), we are shown that there is a way back into life.  A crisis, or even a simcha, takes us out of our lives to a different emotional or spiritual place.  However, we are not built to remain in these places forever; it is simply not sustainable.  Tazria begins a series of prescriptions intended to shepherd us back to a life in balance, a life reconnected to community and ourselves.

 

When we focus on the process, we can view differently the role of the priest, who is not acting in the role of a medical professional, but rather as a pastoral counselor, or a spiritual advisor.  Not once in the process of dealing with skin affections does the priest propose a medicinal or therapeutic remedy.  The role of the priest is to help the affected individual move from a state of spiritual impurity to a state of spiritual purity.  The prescribed offerings are remedies, not for the body, but for the soul.  Hashem is clearly the healer and the priest is the one who accompanies (which is the root meaning of “Levi”) the stricken on their journey back to spiritual health, to spiritual equanimity.

As emphasized by the large number of occurrences in chapter thirteen, the most important tool in the priest’s toolkit is seeing, or as many translations render it, “examining.”  (It is not “sight” however, for there are many ways one can “see” something.) “The priest shall examine (וראה הכהן) the affection on the skin of his body…” (13:3).  The instructions for the priests in the case of skin affections is to look at it, and look at it again.  This is our challenge as well.  How thorough do we examine our own lives?  How many times do we truly see ourselves, or others?  It takes time and patience before any conclusions can be drawn; the priests had to perform three checks within two seven-day cycles before making any pronouncements (13:3-6).  We must remember that a declaration of impurity meant only that the affected individual was unable to partake of the offering set aside for consumption; it was not a newly designated character trait.

 

When we are ailing physically, we are also ailing spiritually.  This is not to say that there is a correlation between the two, but that when we are physically ill or injured, our souls become troubled as we instinctively question the causality.  Why did this happen to me?  What did I do to deserve this?

 

This is a beautiful and subtle lesson of Parshat Tazria.  By focusing on the process of examination and reexamination, on taking time to see the other, we gain a new appreciation for the priest as spiritual caregiver. How can we possibly assist a troubled soul when we do not open the windows of our own souls?

 

Shabbat Shalom!