Tazria-Metzorah is the double portion that we confront this coming Shabbat. Confront is a good word, just ask any bar or bat mitzvah who draws this portion. The themes of this section begin with laws concerning ritual impurities associated with childbirth and goes from there to issues of eruptions on one’s skin, how they are treated (notice the priest in role of doctor) and issues of purity and impurity of persons and domiciles. Often, these skin eruptions have been translated as leprosy.
The tradition has had much to say about these issues. A large body of interpretation has looked at the ideas associated with these outbreaks of impurity and associated them with the idea of evil speech or, “lashon ha’ra”. This can kill equally as a knife of bullet, as anyone who has been the victim of gossip can attest. In our day, many rabbis have preached on this portion and related it to cyber-bullying and the potential “lashon ha’ra” that may be found with social media. This is speech that harms and we are reminded of a passage in Talmud which states “When a person insults someone else, it is his own defects that he is revealing.” (Kiddushin 70a). So much of commentary has been directed at what we say about other people.
Yet, let me also mention a thought about what we say and think about our own self. I don’t think we pay much attention to this as we get older. I was reminded of this as we posted on the Facebook page of Jewish Sacred Aging an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a study of elders who voiced their prejudices about being with other elders who they described as old people. The article discussed the age-ism of elders aimed at other elders and alluded to the very personal issue of many of us voicing those sentiments because, as one person in the article mentioned, we fear our “future self”. (see Jewish Sacred Aging/Facebook post April 8, 2018. “Old and Ageist: Why So Many Older People Have Prejudices About Their Peers And Their Selves”)
This goes to the reality that so many of us do have trouble dealing with our own aging. We read studies about how we can stay young and buy in too much to the American youth oriented idea of value. Yet, the tradition reminds us that aging is a gift, in many ways, and the new revolution in longevity is an opportunity for growth in ways never before imagined. To see in our own aging only decline and decay is a “tzara’at” of contemporary imagery. We do ourselves great harm in this for there is much to be gained, I think, in embracing the reality of this stage of our life.
Rabbi Richard F Address