The Tazria-Metsorah portion of the week is particularly challenging.
It describes situations in which a person is prevented from entering the tabernacle / holy place for a certain period of time.
The two portions focus on a large system of shamanic rituals, with a specific purification ritual for each case that also allows for a return to the holy place and to the community.
These are people who have come in contact with death, or women who have just given birth, women who are menstruating, and people who have skin diseases like leprosy or who excrete various secretions from their body
This may arouse perplexity, misunderstanding and even resentment in the ears of the modern reader.
The text describes them in terms of “pure” and “unclean” that are not necessarily understood in the modern sense of today’s language.
Unclean – describes a situation in which a person is “closed”, “sealed”, cannot be open to the Holy.
For example, a woman in a state of childbirth, or a person in mourning, are prevented from entering the tabernacle because they are in the period of self- care that prevents them from opening to the sacred. They are very much contained within themselves and get “released” from public affairs for their own good. It takes time and space to separate their involvement in the physical/ emotional state in which they find themselves and their ability to be in touch again with holiness.
Pure, on the other hand, symbolizes a situation in which a person is “open”, able to open up to the sacred and able to be in touch with it. (Source: Rabbi Phyllis Berman)
Much attention is paid to the leprosy lesion and there are clear guidelines on how to treat the infected person, when he should separate and distance himself from the community and how and when he should return from isolation.
Leprosy is associated with the Midrash (2nd C. CE commentary on the Bible) related to words of slander.
We remember the story of Miriam, the sister of Moses, who issued a “slander”, spoke ill of Moses with her brother Aaron, and was punished by God with leprosy. Only after Moses asked for her life was she forgiven. But not before she was sent into isolation from the community for a whole week. Alone in the desert.
In a desert that invites a different kind of speech, internal and more connected to oneself. In a desert where a person is able to feel his smallness before nature, where a person can feel how his level of pride drops. Like the matzoh of Pesach. With no ‘yeast’ — in isolation that encourages introspection.
The book of Yetsira, (a mystical text from the 13th century), emphasizes the idea that the world was created through speech, using the 22 letters of the alphabet. And it is also written there: There is no higher good then ‘ONEG’ (Hebrew: ענג, pleasure) and no evil from NEGA (Hebrew: נגע affliction). (Thanks to R. David Kiriel for drawing my attention to this).
In other words: Pleasure and affliction are the best and worst thing that can be created in words. (נגע-ענג)
Going from pleasure to affliction is going from a place of speaking the highest about someone to the place of speaking the worst of him or her, and this happens through a small change of the position of the Hebrew letter “AYIN” ע.
In the word ענג (pleasure) the letter Ayin is on the right side and in the world נגע (affliction) the Ayin is on the left side.
As soon as the “Ayin” moves from the right (of CHESED or loving kindness) to the left (of DIN, or justice) the speech turns from good to evil. And vice versa.
But the “AYIN” is not only a name of a letter but also an organ in the body: the eye.
When we look at a person with a good eye, we speak well of him.
When we look at a person with an evil eye, with a narrow eye (leprosy: in the Hebrew word for leprosy, we find the word narrow, and the letter eye צרעת ), when we narrow our vision only to the bad things we see in a person, then we speak of him badly. This is slandering.
A person who is in a situation where his vision is narrow, and that he is looking at another person with an evil eye – then he cannot enter the sanctuary!
And it is interesting to see that even during the ceremony of the return of the person to the community who was cured of leprosy — the priest purifies him and pays special attention to the person’s right side:
Quote: Vayikra 14:
|And the Cohen shall take one [male] lamb and bring it as a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them as a waving before the Lord.
|He shall slaughter the lamb in the place where one slaughters the sin offering and the burnt offering, in a holy place. For regarding the Cohen [s’ service], the guilt offering is like the sin offering. It is a holy of holies.
|Cohen shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the Cohen shall place it above the cartilage of the right ear of the person being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.
|And the Cohen shall take some of the log of oil and pour [it] onto the Cohen’s left palm.
|The Cohen shall then dip his right index finger into some of the oil that is on his left palm, and sprinkle some of the oil with his index finger seven times, before the Lord.
|And some of the remainder of the oil that is in his palm, the Cohen shall place on the cartilage of the right ear of the person being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on [top of] the blood of the guilt offering.
|And what is left over from the oil that is in Cohen’s palm, he shall place upon the head of the person being cleansed, and Cohen shall affect atonement for him before the Lord.
It is Interesting to check with ourselves: what helps us move our eye to the right?
In what situations does the eye “run-away” to our left?
May we be blessed with the ability to look at ourselves, others and the world with a good and wide eye and may we always be able to count what is and not what isn’t and allow ourselves an open and flowing access to the sacred — to the divine spark within us.