Sign In Forgot Password

Parashat Tazria-Metzora

April 16, 2021
4 Iyyar 5781
Parashat Tazria-Metzora
19th day of the Omer
Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33

Dear Friends,

As winter gives way to spring, April showers and all, our need to reconnect and take in the simple wonder of being alive comes out in full force -- even though what we have faced each day over the past year has been stressful. We find ourselves a bit off balance, not quite sure what normal feels and looks like. And when we are off balance, our patience wears thin and our words seem to appear out of nowhere.

This week’s double portion of Tazria-Metzorah is difficult to understand, but it seems to arrive at just the right moment, during this time of transition.  This part of Leviticus addresses skin disease (sometimes mistakenly referred to as leprosy), moldy clothes, and moldy houses. Treatments for these conditions are described; when those treatments do not work, clothes are burnt, houses pulled down, and people put in isolation. For some of us, these portions resonate more now than ever before.

After a year of not being able to worship together, the idea of a mere 14 day quarantine as described in the Torah portions does not seem so bad. Moreover, two weeks is a good amount of time to spend in reflection, to retreat from that which is regular. When one is lucky enough to go on vacation after a year of working hard, it often takes about two weeks to fully let go and relax.

However, in spite of the fact that the two week isolation period reflects what we have been required to do during Covid, it really does not aid us in understanding this section of the Torah. The section remains somewhat mysterious and difficult to understand. The rabbis had a difficult time with it as well, so they looked for another text within the Torah to help them understand this one.

One of the texts that provided some answers for them was the story of Miriam and Aaron, when Moses’ siblings speak critically about Moses in a conversation initiated by Miriam. As a result of this conversation, Miriam is stricken and appears white with scaly skin as her brother Aaron cries out. Like the individuals with skin disease in our Torah portion, Miriam is put in isolation for two weeks.

From this incident, the rabbis extracted that our words matter and can lead to dire consequences. Yet, those who transgress can return to the community fully rehabilitated.

We are living in a time where vitriolic language continues to surround us, leading not only to bad feelings but to violence. With that in mind, if we take our cue from the rabbis interpretation of this text, we see that Miriam is given an opportunity to reflect upon her words. At this moment, when we are out of balance, feeling a bit unmoored, as Miriam did as she was wandering through the wilderness, having space to breathe before we speak might be a good practice.  As opposed to being isolated after the words come spilling from our mouths, would it not be a good practice to take a deep breath, think through the effect our words have on others and then speak? Chances are that the words will be a little less sharp, a little less biting. 

We, like our ancestors wandering through the wilderness, are tired and a little less patient with ourselves and one another. We know that it does not feel good for long when we allow our righteous indignation to boil over. When we asked our students the question (how do you feel when you say things in order to hurt someone?) all of them replied that although it felt good in the moment, they felt badly afterwards -- remorseful and regretful.

“May the words of our mouths and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight…” Psalm 19:14

Shabbat Shalom,
A picture containing shapeDescription automatically generated
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, May 6 2021 24 Iyyar 5781