We come this Shabbat to one of the more challenging portions. Tazria greets us with verses dealing with skin eruptions, the cutting off of people who present themselves with disease and rituals that surround this issue. The portion’s companion text, next week’s Metzorah, presents us with an interesting view of Torah medicine, analyses and treatment. What these skin afflictions were has been the subject of debate. No doubt you will hear a variety of interpretations this Shabbat. The portion, however, can be looked at in a broader way, a way that has direct meaning for all of us.
In discussing the diagnosis and treatment of the illness in Tazria, we can examine the broader issue of health. As we get older, we are more profoundly aware of the importance of our own health. We notice the subtle (and at tomes not so subtle) changes in our own health and, of course, are very aware of friends and family whose health often changes “in an instant”. Health is one of the things that we can try to control and indeed, as we discuss in the Health and Wellness seminar, there is rising interest on the part of Boomers on how to try to control our health. The texts of our tradition contain many references to why health is such a positive act. For many it reflects how we model our relationship to God and how we, in a not so subtle way, model our view of our own self. As we get older, the, and become more “health conscious” we can see in these Torah portions a call to examine our own health and how we approach it. Likewise, we can see the need for awareness on our part of how society delivers health care. This issue, for those of us in the USA, is emerging as a major social justice issue.
An interesting essay on this portion can be found on the”Modern Men’s Torah Commentary” (Jewish Lights. 2009) Rabbi Jack Reimer wrote an essay on Tazria entitled “Take Care of Yourself” in which he uses the portion as a launching pad to call for regular educational programs in the part of congregations on the issue of how Judaism looks at the issue of health. He suggests that congregations use this period in the Torah cycle (Tazria-Metzorah) to “to provide education in health awareness”. As he writes: “just as we are commanded to guard and take care of our souls, so we are commanded to guard and take care of our bodies–for if our bodies are weak, we cannot do many mitzvot.Therefore synagogues have a religious obligation to do whatever they can to educate their congregants about the importance of caring for their health.” (p.167)
Here is agreat challenge for us, to see in these texts the pathway to create meaningful opportunities to teach and learn and model a Jewish approach to health and wellness.
Rabbi Richard F. Address