Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33) A Seder of Spiritual Cleansing?

jerusalem cityscape with the dome of the rock israel
Photo by Jan Venter on

The issue of last Shabbat, the outbreak of skin eruptions, is concluded this week with rituals designed to cleanse and purify everything from houses to people who have been made “unclean” due to discharges of the body. Notice the taboos regarding blood. The priest shall act as the medical expert in these instances and the purification rituals speak to superstitions and fear. The portion presents us with interpretive challenges and much of the classical interpretation of both portions (often linked) has to do with the issue of gossip and lashon ha’ra.
Let’s look for a second at this issue of purification. Water again is important, and we all know that water is a modality of cleansing across multi religious traditions. Just look at the mikvah or the water pitcher at the house of mourning or next week, the ritual of washing the hands as the seder begins. Indeed, this linkage this year is direct for this Shabbat is, in our tradition, Shabbat Ha’Gadol, the great Sabbath that comes right before Passover. Passover and the seder is, as you know, our re-enactment of the Exodus and the metaphor of the Wilderness experience. Can it be a festival of spiritual cleansing? That is an idea I want to put forth to us this week. For many, we begin this symbolism of cleansing by cleaning out the leavened products from our home. Can this be the opening to a personal spiritual cleansing?
This idea may seem foreign to many of our modern, sophisticated people. But wait! As we gather around the table next week to recite the prayers, share the rituals and, we hope, dine on delicious food; will it be possible to ask those in attendance what they need or wish to let go of? The seder remains the most dynamic of all our rituals. Each year there is more added to it to reflect the world in which we live. This year will be no different as so many will include prayers for the release of hostages and meditations on the war in Gaza as well as prayers for peace, especially considering last weekend’s attack.
Many families do pause and ask people to reflect on what they are grateful for. Why not also ask what feelings, thoughts, actions people need to shed to remain spiritually (and maybe physically) healthy. Opening the door for Elijah may also symbolize the opening of our souls to a sense of liberation from the thoughts, actions, relationships, and situations that “enslave” us. A recent article in magazine “The New Scientist” by Corey Keyes of Emory, noted a stage of feeling called languishing. It is “the absence of well-being. It is when people feel they have nothing positive going on in their lives…They describe it as being numb or dead inside”. Can this festival of freedom be a springboard to reconnecting the languishing to a sense of living? This is a discussion that fits well into the flow of our celebrations. Passover, and the seder as a ritual of cleansing that which enslaves us and thus allowing us to live and not just exist.
Shabbat shalom. Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F. Address

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